TELLURIDE – Actress Marion Cotillard didn’t really explode onto the domestic film stage until “La Vie en Rose,” but what a coming out it was. She managed to win an Oscar that few (ahem) saw coming and transformed that newfound respect and goodwill into a thriving Hollywood career, but it was hardly an overnight success story.
Cotillard had already seen plenty of success in her native France before that 2007 explosion. She starred in Arnaud Desplechin’s “My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument,” Pierre Grimblat’s “Lisa” and the “Taxi” action comedy trilogy — earning plenty of recognition for each — before breaking out in Yann Samuel’s romantic comedy “Love Me If You Dare” (in which she co-starred with eventual husband Guillaume Canet) in 2003. She also eventually landed a prime role in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement,” which brought her a César Award for Best Supporting Actress.
It was around this time that Cotillard appeared in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” and what an interesting director to have “discovered” her on these shores. But word gets out on talent wherever they may be on the globe, and soon enough, Cotillard was working with Abel Ferrara (“Mary”) and Ridley Scott (“A Good Year”). Then, it was “La Vie en Rose.”
Olivier Dahan’s Édith Piaf biopic was bound to be a ripe opportunity for whoever got the role, but Cotillard nailed it. It was much more than an impersonation of a larger-than-life singer. It was a brave portrayal, a fully immersive one. She went on to win the BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for Best Actress (the first winner of the latter for a foreign performance in 35 years), yet still pundits expected SAG winner Julie Christie to take the Oscar for Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her.”
That didn’t happen. Cotillard took the prize, as well as, eventually, another César — only the second person to win both awards for the same performance. She was also the first foreign performer to win the Best Actress Oscar in nearly 50 years.
Cotillard then lept out into a new phase of her career. Her next collaboration was with Michael Mann (“Public Enemies”), and it was one she relished for the director’s process of fully investigating a character’s backstory and thoroughly carving him or her out of whole cloth. She was one of the best parts of the film, which wasn’t all that well-received, and the promise was all the more clear that a star was on the rise.
She soon found roles in big ensembles of movie stars, and she seemed to fit right in: Rob Marshall’s “Nine,” Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” etc. The latter nailed down a nomination for Best Picture, while the very next year, she starred in another: Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
This year she’s already appeared in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” (though in my opinion she was perhaps wasted in a role that had such promise but was ultimately little more than a cog in the twist-ending wheel). Yet again, she seemed at home in a blockbuster, a perfect fit as a first-timer at the end of a trilogy that was one of the biggest money-makers the industry has seen. She’s also present on the indie circuit this year in hubby Canet’s “Little White Lies.”
More importantly, though, Cotillard already dazzled audiences at Cannes with her performance in Jacques Audiard’s “Rust & Bone,” which is playing Telluride this year. The film will surely thrust her into the Best Actress conversation later this year as more and more people get a look at it.
Coming up there is James Gray’s currently untitled film (formerly known as “Lowlife”) that could be something to watch for next year, as well as a role in Canet’s “Blood Ties” (written by Gray) opposite Clive Owen, Mila Kunis, Zoe Saldana and James Caan, among other notables. And once again, surrounded by such firepower, she seems perfectly at home. Just five years after most of us really got a look at her, Marion Cotillard has been welcomed into a pantheon and shows no signs of letting up.
It’s a perfect time, then, for Telluride to offer up a tribute to her work. The festivities happen tonight at the Palm Theatre here in town, and I imagine she’ll likely be humoring similar this-is-your-life appreciations for years to come.