Marion Cotillard on Fear, Trauma and the Male Director Who Manipulated Her: I Felt Like an Object and Really Hated It
In one scene in Mona Achache’s “Little Girl Blue,” which world premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Special Screenings section, the director is seen insisting that lead actor Marion Cotillard stays in character even on her tea break, to the extent that she must drink tea noisily as her character, Carole – based on the French filmmaker’s own mother – used to do. Does this suggest a manipulative relationship between director and actor? Cotillard disagrees.
“I don’t see a director and an actor as being in relationships of manipulation. It’s more a collaboration,” she tells Variety. “It happened to me only once where I felt that I was being manipulated by a director, and I really didn’t like that.”
Although the male director, whom she does not name, had led her to believe that it would be “a process of working together with a collaborative connection,” she says, she soon realized he was attempting to manipulate her.
“I thought: ‘Is he manipulating me because he thinks that I’m going to be unable to give him what he needs, what he wants, if he doesn’t act this way? And I felt like an object, and I really hated it,” Cotillard said.
“And the thing is, I saw right away all the manipulation, and I had the judgement that it was kind of dumb that you can’t ask me to do things without trying to use ways of manipulation that really don’t work with me, with my personality as a woman, I mean, as a human being, and as an actress,” she added. “I need to work hand in hand [with the director].”
She draws a distinction between what could be described as “manipulation” and an “experience of surrender,” in her words, that an actor has to go through in order to embody a character. “I think surrender is something that you really need to go through when you’re an actor,” she explains. “You surrender to the character, you surrender to the story, and you surrender to the creator, the director. But it needs to have, for me, a harmony that I don’t think you can find in manipulation.”
At the start of “Little Girl Blue,” we see Mona Achache initiate the process by which Cotillard metamorphizes into the director’s mother, photographer and writer Carole Achache. The actor strips to her underwear and then the filmmaker hands Cotillard her mother’s clothes, jewellery and glasses, and then gives her contact lenses to change her eyes to the correct color and a wig to complete the transformation. She even asks the actor to spray herself with her mother’s perfume.
Then Cotillard is seen listening to audio recordings and mimicking the voice of Carole. From there she starts to impersonate Carole in meetings with former friends and associates. Until suddenly she transforms completely into the woman, with a fierce intensity.
The process, we are informed at the beginning of the film, is an attempt by Mona to understand why her mother committed suicide, at the age of 63, and find out who she really was as a person.
When Carole died on March 1, 2016, she left no note, but in her cellar she had stored 25 plastic crates with thousands of letters and photos, audio recordings, notebooks, and annotated diaries. Using these, and by employing Cotillard to play her mother, the filmmaker attempts to bring her mother back to life and retrace her journey through life.
By doing so, she scrutinizes Carole’s relationship with her own mother, novelist and screenwriter Monique Lange, whom Carole had written about in her 2011 book titled “Fille De” (“Daughter Of”), in an attempt to understand their pathological relationship.
It is almost like a process of psychological archaeology, piecing together fragments of memories, written contemplation about and justifications of decisions and behavior, and the examination of recorded conversations and photographs, placed alongside the filmed conversations between Cotillard, playing Carole, with friends of her mother’s about past events, some of which were traumatic, describing the manipulation of girls and young women by morally corrupt men and the warped logic of mothers who failed to protect their daughters from abuse.
Cotillard tells Variety: “There was something very deep and very touching about this lineage of women, and Mona’s quest to understand her mother through a process of sort of bringing her back to life. And I thought that was very touching and very interesting, and I was just very deeply moved by the character of Carole.”
Talking about the relationship between daughters and mothers, and the past and the present, Cotillard says: “I think that if a pathology has been in a family for a long time, and you don’t put your energy into cleaning it up, to look at the trauma and the fear in the eyes in order to say: ‘Stop! I don’t want this to happen anymore,’ it will reproduce itself.”
“And I thought it was very interesting that, in a way, Carole did that with her mother by writing a book about her, because she wanted to put an end to something that is not a curse but is something that goes on and on because it’s not taken care of.”
The film, Cotillard says, addresses the “very complex and twisted relationship that this lineage of women has with men, either very powerful men, and in a way harmful, or, on the other side, very weak men who are overwhelmed by the power of these women. And I think it’s beautiful the way Mona is trying, as her mother did too, to face things, and try to understand them; to face the trauma and the fear to put an end to it. Carole wrote a book and Mona is making a film, and I think it’s a beautiful process of reconciliation and hopefully healing.”
As she sets about recreating the character of Carole in the film, Cotillard speaks at length with Mona about her childhood, and the “twisted relationship” between the mother and her daughter. This was important, Cotillard says, because “childhood is the base of every person’s construction,” and this explains “how Mona was destroyed as a kid” due to her own experience of sexual abuse.
However, she adds: “I would see things in Carole that Mona had difficulty seeing because of this very special relationship between a mother and a daughter. I would see a lot of love being shown by Carole to her kids, when Mona had a hard time seeing her mom giving her love when she was a kid.
“So, it was really interesting for Mona to have this person she didn’t really know taking on her mother’s personality, and having another vision, another understanding of who this person was.”
A pivotal scene in the film is when Carole has sex with the owner of a restaurant in New York, and then takes $20 from him. She realizes that a line has been crossed, morally, and that her self-respect has been compromised by this transaction.
“When nobody teaches you respect, and, first of all, the respect for yourself, and when you’re raised by a mother who will push you into the arms of older men when you are 11, 13, the respect and the self-respect is totally disrupted, twisted. It’s really hard for a person to build a personality and reach the respect of oneself when the relationship is perverted.
“Carole’s mother loved her, she wanted the best for her, but she had her own issues. She didn’t see that what she did to her, to her own daughter, was really, really wrong. In a way she offered her daughter to this famous writer [Jean Genet] and his lover, and it destroyed Carole.
“But what was very ambiguous is that it was explained to her [by her mother] that it was a chance for her to be in this environment of great artists and great thinkers, and Carole came to believe it. She believed that Jean Genet built her personality, but at the same time he destroyed her. So how can you respect yourself when there was a lack of respect from your mother, while [the relationship] is presented in the shape of love. It’s really hard to build yourself and evolve with that twisted double message: This is a chance for you to be there [with these intellectual icons], and at the same time, this is where you’re going to be destroyed, and nobody tells you that is wrong. And especially your mother who should be the one to protect you, but instead puts you in that position where you lose something that is essential for your self-esteem, and your sexual journey in life.”
When watching the film, the viewer is left with the feeling that difficult conversations should be had with one’s parents while they are still alive, but for Mona this option was taken from her by her mother’s suicide. Instead, she contrives a meeting between her and her mother, played by Cotillard, where she quizzes her mother about her own childhood trauma. “Mona was molested, and Carole was not there to protect her, which is a very heavy guilt that she has,” Cotillard explains.
“The question that came to my mind is: Is there a good way to love and a bad way to love? And how can you show your love when you haven’t overcome your own issues, and you reproduce a pattern of sexual assault. I think it takes a long time for a person to understand the anger, and understand that one needs to express the anger towards someone who is a sweet person and a very loving person. It took Carole a very long time for her to come to the point that she could actually blame her own mother.”
The silence that sometimes surrounds an abuse is also found in many other social groups, whether it is a family, a community or a group of friends, she says. “But you don’t want to talk about it because it will destroy a family, it will destroy a group of people. It will shake to destruction a lot of relationships that are constructed around the fact that you’re not saying anything about just one person being destroyed by sexual assault. And it’s unfortunately a very common process.”
“Little Girl Blue” was produced by Laetitia Gonzalez and Yaël Fogiel for Les Films du Poisson. International sales are being handled by Carole Baraton and Sena Cilingiroglu at Charades.
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