From Annette (2021) to Two Days, One Night (2014), here are the best Marion Cotillard movies from her versatile acting career.
Born in Paris on September 30, 1975, Marion Cotillard was raised by parents who were both performing artists. Her father Jean-Claude Cotillard was a mime artist, actor, and a playwright. Her mother Niseema Theillaud was an actress and a drama teacher. Naturally, Marion Cotillard’s first teacher in acting was her mother, and as a child she made her acting debut in one of her dad’s plays. After small roles in theater and minor appearances in TV series, Marion Cotillard’s acting career started with her appearance in 1993 TV series Highlander. Her breakthrough role was in the box-office hit Taxi (1998). Taxi and its two sequels turned Marion Cotillard into one of the popular French actresses. Her good looks led to comparisons with Angelina Jolie in the mainstream media.
However, right from her first lead role in TV movie Chloe (1996), Marion Cotillard established herself as a flawless actor. In 2001, she got nominated for Cesar Award for playing twin sisters in the gritty French drama Pretty Things. Couple of years later, Cotillard made her Hollywood acting debut in Tim Burton’s magical realist drama Big Fish (2003). From then on, Cotillard has effectively balanced between top-tier Hollywood projects with many lead roles in French cinema. Cotillard’s powerful performance as the legendary French singer Edith Piaf earned her the first Academy Award.
From Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Michael Mann to Woody Allen, Dardenne Brothers, James Gray, and Jacques Audiard, Cotillard has collaborated with some of the most interesting filmmakers working today.
Very quickly then, here’s a look at the 13 best Marion Cotillard movies:
13. Innocence (2004)
From Madchen in Uniform (1931), Zero for Conduct (1933) to Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), boarding school narratives have focused on exploring innocence and coming-of-age. Lucille Hadzihalilovic’s debut feature is a bizarre arthouse drama that revolves around a mysterious coffin arriving at an all-girls boarding school. Inside the coffin is the six-year old Iris who wakes up and gradually learns the rules of the school. In fact, girls arrive in coffins at the boarding school and they are asked not to venture outside the woods.
Marion Cotillard plays one of the two adults in the narrative. Her Eva is the school mistress whose characterization brings real-life emotions to the otherwise irrational fairy-tale setting. Innocence is devoid of traditional dramatic conflicts, and it is Cotillard’s outstanding supporting role performance which keeps us engaged with the allegorical premise. Eva – similar to the characters of boarding school girls – remains opaque. Nevertheless, Cotillard’s reassuring adult presence brings the much-needed human warmth to the narrative.
12. Contagion (2011)
Steven Sodebergh’s intense docu-drama chronicles the spread of a lethal strain of virus around the world in a matter of days. Marion Cotillard plays Dr. Leonora Orantes, an investigator from the World Health Organization. Sodebergh’s unsensational take on global epidemic is well complimented by a great ensemble of actors. Cotillard, Jude Law, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, and Gwyneth Paltrow deliver incredibly poignant performances. They acutely bring across the narrative’s eerie socio political message.
The narrative unfolds in the form of tense vignettes that’s set in different parts of the world. Marion Cotillard’s storyline is the second most interesting one after the touching story of Dr. Erin Mears (a deeply affecting performance from Kate Winslet). Cotillard’s Leonora is a doctor as well as a sleuth who faces one of the dystopian political and social scenarios, amplified by the raging pandemic. It’s not a boundary-pushing performance, but Marion Cotillard’s crucial and sympathetic screen presence makes this medical thriller more engaging.
11. Nine (2009)
Rob Marshall’s campy musical drama was loosely based on a 1982 Broadway show, which itself was loosely based on Federico Fellini’s 8 1⁄2. Nine nowhere comes close to Marshall’s previous Oscar-winning musical Chicago (2002). Yet the film boasts great seasoned performers like Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Though the film was a critical and box-office failure, it was the singing and dancing performances of Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, and Kate Hudson that made Nine somewhat watchable. Cotillard plays Luisa Contini, the meek and shy wife of the troublesome protagonist Guido Contini. Her powerful rendition of the Take It All ballad is incredibly moving. Take It All unfolds as Guido’s nightmare where he imagines his wife taking revenge on him through the wrathful yet sexy musical performance. My Husband Makes Movies is another beautiful song number, where Cotillard brilliantly evokes the agony and loneliness of her character.
10. Public Enemies (2009)
Michael Mann’s prohibition-era gangster movie had Marion Cotillard playing Billie Frechette, the girlfriend of notorious mobster John Dillinger. The narrative chronicles the final days of Dillinger’s crime life as the FBI takes steps to bring him to justice. While Johnny Depp played Dillinger, his opponent — the FBI agent Melvin Purvis — was played by another Hollywood star, Christian Bale. Cotillard did her research on Billie Frechette to prepare for the role. She also mentions studying the American history of that era.
Though it’s a small role, Cotillard took it because she felt that Michael Mann never writes women in decorative roles. She liked how Mann gave her the space to explore Billie as a person rather than simply reduce her presence as the love interest. In fact, she has quite a few stand-out moments in the film. Look out for the one where she’s caught and viciously interrogated. Marion Cotillard states that she was quite nervous to take up this project. But it was Johnny Depp who helped her ease into the role.
9. Midnight in Paris (2011)
Marion Cotillard graces the screen with her gentle, ethereal presence in Woody Allen’s delightful romantic fantasy. The narrative revolves around Owen Wilson’s Gil, a surrogate Allen figure. Gil is an American screenwriter holidaying in Paris with his fiance’s family. He is besotted with the city and considers the 1920s as its golden age. But his fiancee petulantly disapproves of his romantic notions. On a lonely midnight walk, Gil surprisingly comes across his ‘golden age’ fantasy.
Cotillard plays Adriana, a costume designer and an artist’s muse. In a way, Cotillard’s Adriana is a personification of the myth of Paris which preoccupies Gil. The actress is part of an ensemble cast that includes Adrian Brody, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, and Tom Hiddleston. Besides, Cotillard is immensely charming in the role, a sprite dispelling Gil’s existential quandaries.
In an interview, Marion Cotillard mentioned that while they made the film she was ignorant of Woody Allen’s off-screen life, and further stated that in the face of sexual abuse allegations, she’s now learned to question more before selecting such projects.
8. Love Me If You Dare (2003)
Yann Samuel’s directorial debut seems to be influenced by the hit rom-com My Sassy Girl (2001), one of the best Korean movies of the 21st century. Julien and Sophie, best friends from childhood, keep playing an odd game of truth and dare. Their games gradually become increasingly dangerous and feckless, driving them apart. Marion Cotillard and her real-life partner Guillaume Canet play the central characters with whimsicality and gusto. In fact, the film marked the first encounter between the two.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the film is inspired by the French smash-hit Amélie (2001). And like Amélie, it’s a beautiful work on childhood love, nostalgia, and also unspoken trauma.
Surprisingly, Cotillard who recurrently plays emotionally frayed personalities exhibits perfect comic timing in this role. In fact, some critics find Cotillard’s confident and level-headed performance as more interesting than Audrey Tatou’s winsome performance in Amélie. Overall, it’s a strange fable watchable for Cotillard’s sweetness and appeal.
7. A Very Long Engagement (2004)
French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet followed up his huge critical and commercial hit Amélie (2001) with A Very Long Engagement, an enthralling tale of love set in the backdrop of World War I. Audrey Tatou once again played the lead role. She plays lovelorn Mathilde who befriends her true love Manech during their childhood. Manech is one of the five deserted French soldiers left in the no man’s land between French and German trenches. Mathilde believes that he is alive and searches for him. The perfect counterpart to Mathilde in the narrative is Marion Cotillard’s Tina Lombardi, a prostitute engaged in a quest to avenge the murder of her pimp and partner, Ange.
Jeunet uses the optimism and hopefulness of Mathilde’s love as an anchor point to branch out and look at different shades of love. Tina’s love is the most fierce; the kind of love that pushes her to kill. Her gruesome methods of killing make up the narrative’s most entertaining interludes. Marion Cotillard’s intense performance earned her a Cesar Award for Best Supporting Actress.
6. Annette (2021)
In this weird yet enchanting musical by Leos Carax, Marion Cotillard plays Ann, a renowned opera singer who falls in love with a stand-up comedian, Henry (Adam Driver). The perfect and glamorous couple have their first child named Annette, a little girl gifted with extraordinary skills. But soon, the couple’s lives are turned upside down by certain darker truths. Cotillard is at ease in a performance that relies heavily on her singing skills. In fact, the gifted actress brilliantly plays the part of a soprano that could be mistakenly considered as some real-life opera singer.
One of the most interesting aspects of Carax’s Annette is that all the music and songs were done live. Therefore, it’s a double challenge for actors who must both sing and act out the character’s movements while conveying emotions. Both Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver do a phenomenal job in finding the right balance juggling everything. It’s clearly a high-wire act and Cotillard casually delivers a powerfully restrained and engaging performance.
5. Macbeth (2015)
Justin Kurzel’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy is visually magnificent although dramatically underwhelming. The 17th century play is about a brave Scottish military man who’s tempted by power. He murders his way to the throne with the help of his wife but swiftly falls deep into insanity. Apart from the director’s stunning visual presentation, the other fascinating aspect is Cotillard playing Lady Macbeth.
She turns in an enigmatic, haunted take on the scheming king’s wife. Not to mention, she elevates the classical role with gifted facial expression, full of madness and belligerence. Marion Cotillard’s rendition of Lady Macbeth doesn’t come across as an overtly evil figure. She interprets the characters as a determined woman who believes in the choices she makes until the guilt becomes too hard to bear.
Cotillard’s dialogue delivery is unbelievably restrained and yet full of subtle facial expressions that make you deeply feel her character’s guilt. Altogether, it’s the most dynamic performance of the famous deceptive character.
4. The Immigrant (2013)
James Gray’s historical melodrama is set in 1921, at Ellis Island, the gateway of millions of immigrants to the US. Marion Cotillard plays the titular character named Ewa Cybulski, a Polish Catholic. Ewa disembarks at Ellis Island with her sister Magda, who is confined to the infirmary due to a lung disease. Notably, she survives in the new world with the help of Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a burlesque-style showman. He offers her a place to live and a job at his theater.
Though the circumstances in The Immigrant show all signs to become a melodrama, James Gray’s writing and direction avoids such routes and largely relies on character dynamics and social reality of the era. As Ewa, Cotillard spectacularly expresses her conflicted inner emotional state. The highest note of her performance is particularly the scene she forlornly confesses to the priest.
Ewa is Cotillard’s yet another overlooked performance which, similar to Rust and Bone, didn’t bring her any major awards.
3. La Vie En Rose (2007)
Marion Cotillard’s marvelous portrayal of French cultural icon Edith Piaf earned her a BAFTA, Golden Globe, and an Oscar. Director Olivier Dahan’s dramatic interpretation of Piaf’s life story gets at emotional truths about an artist. The narrative jumps back and forth across decades, offering biographical details, while also showcasing powerful renditions of Piaf’s songs. Interestingly, Dahan used Piaf’s own voice and original musical recordings, which Cotillard perfectly lip syncs.
Playing Piaf from age 19 to 47 (she died at 47 due to illness and drug use), Cotillard portrays every phase with dynamism and grace. The actress also took rigorous measures to absorb the character in method-acting style. To begin with, she spoke in Piaf’s gravelly voice, shaved her eyebrows and hairline. Besides, Cotillard’s background in music and songwriting helped her to slip into the role of a singer.
Cotillard later confessed she was so deep into the character that she found it difficult to redeem even months after the production had wrapped.
2. Rust and Bone (2012)
In Jacques Audiard’s soul-searching drama, Cotillard plays a former whale-trainer who loses her legs in a terrible accident. She forms a bond with a bouncer (Matthias Schoenaerts), who saves her from a bar-room brawl. They get involved in a physical yet unsentimental relationship. Notably, the film was inspired by two stories in a short-story collection by Canadian author Craig Davidson.
This is one of the best Marion Cotillard movies. To say her performance is hypnotic and complex would be an understatement. She once again proves her remarkable quality at diffusing deep emotional complexity to the character. Her eyes reveal a strength and fragility that are hard to be unmoved by. When the narrative starts, Cotillard’s Stephanie is a vivacious and confident woman. But after the accident her spirit is crushed and she gradually finds her footing in life. Audiard entirely relies on Cotillard’s performance to bring these two extremes of Stephanie to life. Unfortunately, the performance didn’t bring her any major awards.
1. Two Days, One Night (2014)
In Dardenne brothers’ social-realist drama, Marion Cotillard doesn’t go through grueling physical transformation as in La Vie En Rose. But her impassioned and sadly introspective looks easily outdo her Oscar-winning performance. Cotillard plays Sandra, a working-class wife and mother.
She returns to work at a solar panel factory after a nervous breakdown, only to discover that her job is in peril. The inhumane bureaucracy of the company has decided to oust her. Henceforth, it’s all put to simple vote: the struggling fellow workers can save Sandra’s job, provided they are ready to part with their year-end bonuses.
Before Monday’s vote, Sandra spends the weekend, knocking at the doors of her colleagues’ houses. In due time, she needs 9 votes out of the 16. Two Days, One Night is a brilliant recession-era drama that talks about the need for solidarity among the workers.
Cotillard’s restrained, stripped-down performance, full of self-resolve and dignity anchors the film. Dardenne brothers are known for their repeat-takes and some of the scenes in the film took at least 50 takes. Yet Cotillard retains subtlety and avoids sentimental expressions throughout such an emotionally taxing work.
Marion Cotillard is the highest paid actor in France and the highest paid foreign actor in Hollywood. Nevertheless, the quality of roles Cotillard chooses gets increasingly better. She often gets herself involved in financially smaller projects that offer her challenging roles to play. For instance, Cotillard’s collaboration with Dardenne Brothers in Two Days One Night, which became one of her career best works.
There are lots of upcoming projects for the actress. She’s playing one of the lead roles in Arnaud Desplechin’s Brother and Sister. Cotillard plays Cleopatra in her husband Guillaume Canet’s Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom. But the most exciting upcoming project of Cotillard is Lee. The film marks the directorial debut of renowned cinematographer Ellen Kurras and Cotillard will share her screen space with Kate Winslet.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’