Hurt, Bonnaire Reunite For Cannes Entry

William Hurt
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

"She was a star player. She was one of the greatest people I've ever met in my work. There wasn't one bit of her at all out of style. She was amazing, incredible."

American actor shows off his French chops in Critics' Week entry 'Maddened by his Absence.'

CANNES - William Hurt might seem like an unlikely candidate for the leading role in a French movie, but he happens to have fathered a child with the director. He and Maddened by his Absenc ehelmer Sandrine Bonnaire met in 1991 while filming The Plague and joined forces in 1994 in Secrets Shared With a Stranger.

The Critics’ Week title is Bonnaire’s sophomore film after her 2009 documentary Her Name Is Sabine, a tribute to her autistic sister. This time, Bonnaire has tried her luck in the fiction genre, one she knows well after having acted in more than 50 films during her long career from acclaimed directors including Maurice Pialat, Agnes Varda, Jacques Doillon and Andre Techine. However, Bonnaire’s story is once again, a personal one.

“I was inspired by a man that I knew when I was a child,” she describes as she remembers “the man who should have been my mother’s husband,” but because of circumstances, “they never lived their love story.”

Bonnaire saw him for the last time when she was around 20 and “he mourned my mother and became a bum,” she describes, adding: “I was so perturbed by the last meeting that I said one day I’d pay him homage.”

The actress-director began writing. “I asked myself, ‘What makes these things happen?’ I thought the only thing that could make me feel like that would be the loss of a child.”

At first, Bonnaire had conceived the role for a French actor but couldn’t narrow it down. Then, Hurt came to mind. “He’s a wonderful actor,” Bonnaire said of her former beau and father of their daughter. “Whether he was American or Japanese, it didn’t change much. He’s just a man suffering,” she says of the leading role. Bonnaire asked Hurt if he’d be up for the challenge, and when he said yes, she began to construct the role for him. “I wrote for him, but I knew that if he didn’t want to do it, it would be possible to change.”

Hurt seemed like the perfect choice for the role. “He loves the French language, and he loves European culture. He’s spent a lot of time here; it’s a country he respects and likes, which was very good for the film,” Bonnaire said of the actor who speaks fluent French in the film with just a hint of an accent.

Hurt’s Jacques travels to France from Boston after his father dies and ends up becoming increasingly involved in the life of the son of his ex-wife, played by Jean Dujardin’s real-life love Alexandra Lamy.

“It’s complicated to describe it. It’s probably annoying for the film’s promotion, but I don’t want to be able to summarize it. It’s a movie that does without words,” Bonnaire says of the unconventional story that filmed in Luxembourg, Belgium and France. Hurt and Lamy’s characters lost a son while they were married, and the film explores the effect of the death on them both.

“It could happen to any one of us,” Bonnaire says. “It’s not craziness, it’s emptiness. It’s not madness, it’s incredible grief. When we’re confronted with this, we’re capable of anything. This man finds love with the child, and the child finds love too. It’s a second mourning for him. He finds life within this child.”

Bonnaire may be the queen of art house fare onscreen, but she thinks her latest directorial effort has more mainstream appeal.

“I really wanted to make something universal. Everyone can identify with this story,” she says of the film sold by Films Distribution internationally. “It’s a movie that can travel. The theme is universal. It’s not a French story.”