Marion Cotillard On The Familial Mysteries Of Hatred In Arnaud Desplechin's Brother And Sister [Interview]

This year at the Cannes Film Festival, complicated family bonds were laid bare for all to see. Arnaud Desplechin's new film "Brother and Sister" — also known in French as "Frère Et Soeur" — was one of several fest films exploring what it means to love, hate, and question the people closest to us, for better or worse. The movie follows Alice (Marion Cotillard) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud), siblings in their mid-fifties who have been estranged for over 20 years. Alice harbors a deep hatred for Louis, yet the true reasons for her feelings are mysterious to everyone but them. When their parents become victims of a terrible car accident, the siblings are forced to face their estrangement head-on and do their best to rectify the actions that have led them to this place of resentment. 

The film is brimming with intensity and top-notch performances across the board — but the real highlight is being able to see Cotillard give her absolute all to this role in a way that rivals her time as Edith Piaf in 2007's "La Vie En Rose" while being wholly unique and incomparable. There's a real complexity to this character, as there is in Poupaud's Louis, and it makes for a feast for the audience in Cotillard's performance. I sat down with the esteemed actor during the film festival to discuss her process for this role, her longtime collaboration with Desplechin, and the mysteries this film leaves for its audiences — and needless to say, she is a seasoned performer with a deep and genuine insight that will be valuable to her peers for years to come. Talk about watching a legend at work. 

'I understood the disconnection she needed in this relationship'

What makes you want to come back to work with Arnaud [Desplechin] time after time? You guys have a great list of collaborations over the years.

Well, I feel very lucky that he wants to work with me again, and I felt very lucky as well to be welcomed in the Vuillard family, which he has explored already. And I love "A Christmas Tale." Yeah, I very much loved this movie and I felt lucky to enter this family, and to do such an intimate project of Arnaud's. I felt when I read this script that I wanted to explore with him and to support him in this exploration of his own intimacy.

What was the most challenging part of this role for you? Your acting was superb and you do a lot of heavy lifting in this film. So what was the hardest for you as an actor?

You know, I don't think hard is a word I would use. Intense, I would say, but hard? It's hard when you work with a director that is not a good director. That's hard. But what [was] challenging, I would say, was to find the humanity of this woman who is full of anger and hatred, and without explaining why. Some things she does, some things she goes through are questionable. And I think the fact that I didn't judge her helped me to find her humanity. And Arnaud only told me one thing. He said, "Please save her." And I really got what he wanted to say because yes, she does things like, how can she possibly not meet the children? The kid of her brother. But I understood the disconnection that she needed in this relationship because this relationship is just too strong. There's too much love. And the only way she found to keep this connection — while being disconnected, because this love is too strong—is to find the same kind of energy. And the same kind of energy is hatred.

Alice hates Louis and that's the central mystery of the film. We don't know why. What reason, or even lack thereof, did you give yourself while preparing for the film?

Too much love.

That's beautiful. That's really beautiful. I was not expecting that answer. If you knew Alice in real life, or someone like her, what kind of advice would you give her regarding her relationship with Louis, and to a larger extent, her family?

Wow. I don't know. If I really had to, I would maybe say that, "Maybe you need to find love for yourself and to see that you are a beautiful person, and you can celebrate that when you find love for yourself." And maybe it's going to be easier to deal with the love you feel with, and the love and the hate you feel with your brother. And I would maybe also tell her, "Talk to your parents. Make them face where they failed."

Can you compare love stories? I don't know.

What does the film's ending moments mean to you? It's very open to interpretation.

Yes. That's why I won't give my interpretations. Because I think movies like that are so intimate. Each person will feel a different thing, will have a different interpretation. And I have my own and I needed to find my interpretation to build the character. But I think this is too intimate, almost.

Some will go as far as to say this role is a career-best for you. I know that I feel that way after seeing the film last night. How would you compare working on this film and this character to say, Edith Piaf, which you won countless major awards for?

Can you compare love stories? I don't know, but I really fell in love with her. I really love her.

She's easy to love, interestingly enough.

Well, it's a good thing, because she could be easy to hate too. If you only see the side of coldness and roughness of her that she has.

How did you as an actor tap into this really complicated relationship with Melvil [Poupaud]? It's different from any other sibling relationship I feel like I've seen on screen in quite a while.

You know, the script was so well written. There was everything I needed in the script. I had an experience that was really different, that it was the first time of my life. I experienced kind of a method actor experience, which is not my way of working, but I didn't know Melvil. Like 20 years ago we spent some time together because we had common friends, but I don't know him, and I needed to stay away from him, to avoid him on set. When you are on set with your co-star and then it's a break or between takes, you will get to know each other, have conversations about your life, and I needed to stay away from this kind of relationship. So it was mixed feelings because in a way, I was kind of anxious that he would judge me as a cold person. Not very friendly, which I don't think I am.

But I really needed this distance. I wanted that the moment I would look at him — [when] I would dive my eyes into his — [to] be on set, on camera. And so it was mixed feelings. Because yeah, this anxiety to think, 'Oh my God, he will think I'm such not a cool person.' But at the same time, it was exciting. I found kind of excitement in the way I would avoid him and not connect with him at all. But I was very relieved at the end of the shooting when I came to him and explained that it was a deep need that I had. And he really understood this. Even if during the shooting, he was questioning my behavior, but then he got it. And at the end [of] the shooting just [to] finally be able to say, 'I really love you a lot. And I would've loved to share moments with you.' Which we are doing now! [It's] pretty cool, because now I act like a normal person.

"Brother and Sister" premiered as part of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.