Cotillard into the unknown with Carax

Why Cannes opener's singing star was left running scared

by Richard Mowe

Facing the music: director Leos Carax and star Marion Cotillard and co-star Simon Helberg
Facing the music: director Leos Carax and star Marion Cotillard and co-star Simon Helberg Photo: Festival de Cannes

"Break a leg" is normally a superstitious way of wishing an actor good luck but in the case of Marion Cotillard, one of the stars of the Cannes Film Festival’s opening film Annette, the phrase was rather too close to home for comfort.

It was the one time during the shoot when she declined to carry out director Leos Carax’s instructions to the letter. “You never knew what each day would look like but there I was in 30-centimetre heels, on a narrow path, and singing. That’s the only time I said I couldn’t do it because I thought I would fall and break my leg,” she told the media at the press conference today following last night’s red carpet screening.

Cotillard is used to combining singing and acting, having won an Oscar for her portrayal of legend Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s La Vie En Rose. “Usually when you sing in a musical you record the songs in the studio and while on set you would lip-synch. In Annette it was done live which meant that the sound of singing could be changed by every movement of the body. I had to train to sing while moving around a lot, including running, walking and bending. You can’t imagine how hard it is.”

Marion Cotillard on the perils of fame: "“To have this mirror of so many people loving you, it can put you in a situation where it doesn’t fit and it’s not logical."
Marion Cotillard on the perils of fame: "“To have this mirror of so many people loving you, it can put you in a situation where it doesn’t fit and it’s not logical." Photo: Festival de Cannes

Carax who has a reputation for being a demanding director, does not view cinema as being “indulgent.” He said: “It is my vision from a particular viewpoint. Cinema is largely made by white men although that is changing to a degree. This was my vision of a man who is a bad father, bad husband and bad artist although there could be many other versions of the same story.”

Cotillard and Adam Driver play lovers - a famous operatic soprano and a stand-up comic, respectively, whose lives are changed forever by the arrival of baby Annette.

The director revealed that the key to the production was finding the baby, Annette, incarnated by a marionette. “I met two young puppeteers [Estelle Charlier and Romauld Collinet] who created her, having tried various puppets in Los Angeles and Tokyo. They made it possible. I wanted to see Annette on the shoot in the arms of the actors. I didn’t want to add her in in post-production.”

Cotillard admitted that the film’s reference to the pressures of fame struck personal chords. She explained: "I have the experience of being recognised. It’s been a big question in my personal life: why do we need to be looked at, heard, loved, by so many people we don’t even know? And how it can build your confidence in a way, but also how it can destroy you, especially when you don’t have enough love for yourself.

“To have this mirror of so many people loving you, it can put you in a situation where it doesn’t fit and it’s not logical. And then it can destroy you even more, and we’ve seen so many celebrities going down. There’s something wrong with that.”

Co-star Adam Driver was missing from the press conference line-up which also included brothers Ron and Russell Mael who as Sparks were responsible for the music and (with Carax) the screenplay and actor Simon Helberg. It is believed Driver had had to leave Cannes earlier because of filming commitments in Ohio where he is shooting Noah Baumbach’s White Noise opposite Greta Gerwig.

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