Marion Cotillard wasn’t very famous when she won the Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for her performance in La Vie en Rose, but after starring opposite Johnny Depp and appearing as a crucial character in a Christopher Nolan film, she began to be a recognizable face among the summer movie crowd even if they still couldn’t quite place her. Cotillard is one of the most technically proficient actresses working today, using her eyes to level the audience and bring them into the rapture of the fiction that she inhabits. Not since Catherine Deneuve has a French actress been accessible to American audiences at this level. Set to appear in a new thriller from Steven Soderbergh later this year as well as next year’s inevitably successful new Nolan Batman film, she most recently captured hearts and minds in Woody Allen’s excellent French-set comedy Midnight in Paris.
La Vie en Rose– Cotillard was the very definition of an underdog when she won the Best Actress award for her performance in this 2007 melodrama/biopic. It was one of the few years in recent memory that talent whole-heartedly took precedence over fame. As the boozy French crooner Edith Piaf, Cotillard takes us through a tormented artistic talent as she makes her way out of a brothel and into alcoholism and despair. It is a performance not solely of tribute, but one grounded in the harsh truth that in order to be great, one must suffer.
Public Enemies– Though she stars alongside Depp and Christian Bale, she was the only one who could be advertised an Oscar-winner in Michael Mann’s reimagining of the bank robber John Dillinger. Cotillard brings an emotional core to the relationship between Billie Frechette and Dillinger, but she does not take a backseat as women often do in gangster films. She becomes the whipping post for her lover’s crimes in a brutal police interrogation and is in the film’s last, haunting shot. In a movie where you know the ending, she keeps you guessing.
Inception– We never get to see Mal in the real world in Inception, just her husband Cobb’s nightmarish reincarnation of her. As all emotion and rampaging id, she becomes a Freudian figure that wreaks havoc on the dream-dwellers as well as delivering deeply emotional scenes while locked away in Cobb’s subconscious.
Nine– Both Cotillard and Daniel Day-Lewis won Oscars the same year, and here they get to work together. Cotillard has the edge with prior musical experience, and outshines everyone else in the cast as the cast-out wife of besieged director Guido Contini. The movie is largely hit-and-miss, but Cotillard’s scenes fall firmly in the former.
Midnight in Paris- Though her character is a muse, she’s also in a Woody Allen movie, where those characters are just as interesting and relatable as the artist’s they inspire. Here, she inspires everyone from Pablo Picasso to Gil, the Allen avatar played by Owen Wilson. She gives the movie an injection of romance as well as a way to get the point across that there really is no time like the present.
Other notable performances: Big Fish, A Good Year