With Les Films du Fleuve, the Dardenne brothers have already co-produced key works such as Costa-Gavras’ Le Couperet, Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric, Renato De Maria’s La Prima Linea or Pierre Schoeller’s Lexercice de l’Etat. The least we can say is that these four adventures were fruitful. The company’s latest cross-border collaboration will not be out of place in their list of achievements, as they are currently working with a certain Jacques Audiard, who has brought two of Belgium’s best actors on board in his mad venture.
Ali is 25 years old and lives in the North. He has no money and never had any. When you are young and alone, this is not a problem. It becomes one when the girl you had a child with sticks it to you. Now it’s clear, Ali has a problem : his name is Sam, he is five years old. At the end of the race and short didées, he rings his sister who lives in Antibes, in the South. It is there that the father and his son will find refuge for the winter, in the basement of a house. Ali, in fact, is called Alain. Alain van Versch. And he will be played on screen by Mathias Schoenaerts.
Nothing very surprising in that, except that De rouille et dos is not a Flemish film, nor even really a Belgian film, but the new feature film of Jacques Audiard, one of the greatest French directors of today. His work includes Sur mes lèvres (with a frightening Olivier Gourmet), De Battre mon cur sest arrêté and, of course, Un prophète, which won the César awards for French cinema in 2010. As for this shock, he relies here on an actor unknown to the French public. But not from us, that goes without saying. Between Tahar Rahim, the hero of A Prophet and Matthias Schoenaerts, the filiation is obvious. The advantage is that we know in advance that the performance of the Belgian will be magnificent. The presence of Marion Cotillard is another guarantee of success.
Because yes, Marion Cotillard makes her big return to the cinema after having offered to Guillaume Canet a first child. Marion Cotillard is Stéphanie, a beautiful 28 year old blonde, a princess with an amazing job : she is a gilt-edged trainer at the Aquatic Park of Antibes. A dangerous occupation that will cost him his physical integrity.
Very freely adapted from the collection of short stories A Taste of Rust and Os, Jacques Audiard has sucked out the essence, the harshness, the brutality. Struck by the book, he conceived a real, unique story, that of Stephanie and Eli, who do not even appear in the original texts. His scenario is part of a current trend: the stunning comeback of melodrama.
Released in Canada in 2007, the best-selling book by Canadian Craig Davidson focused on wounded men and women, condemned to try to get back on their feet against all odds. It was his very first book and we are still waiting for the continuation of his career in French. The English-speaking world has been treated to a series of novels, including The Fighter, which has nothing to do with David Russell’s film and the recent Sarah Court.
In the collection, Audiard has thus drawn themes, an atmosphere, a style that he calls (for lack of a better word, he says) expressionist. An aesthetic too, sharp, brutal and contrasted. And a backdrop, that of the Great Depression, of strange fairground films: Will De Rouille et dOs be a Freaks and a Carnivale à la française?
This way of doing things from a handful of short stories has already been experimented by Paul Haggis for Million Dollar Baby, which he wrote for Clint Eastwood. Let’s hope that this new attempt will be a success of the same kind
We could stop there and salivate abundantly, but the picture would not be complete without admitting that our national Bouli Lanners is also part of the distribution. In a second role then, but devilishly important, that of Martial. He will shoot 12 days with the French dream team.
De Rouille et dOs will be ready at the end of April, in time for the Cannes selection. And if there is no problem with the finish, it is hard to see what could prevent Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s managing director, from taking him on