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Rust & Bone – Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain interview

Rust & Bone

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JACQUES Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain talk about some of the challenges involved in adapting Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories into their new film Rust & Bone.

They also talk about their own working relationship, what they like and don’t like about the state of modern cinema and working with both Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard.

Q. How would you characterise Rust & Bone?
Jacques Audiard: It’s a melodrama… melo-trash.

Q. A lot of people will use the word romance. Do you concur?
Thomas Bidegain: Yes, it’s a love story!

Q. I’ve read that you said Matthias Schoenaerts doesn’t fit into the kind of actor you normally look for. So, what about him stood out when you came to cast him?
Jacques Audiard: Well, the part we wrote was tougher than what it is on-screen now. He was a closed character and more like an animal. But very rapidly we thought that the character was not seductive enough. And the question was how a girl could fall in love with a guy like him. So, the work with Matthias was to make the character more juvenile somehow and he has a lot of charm this way. But it also changed the position he had with his son. In the original scenario, he was really a violent father but with that juvenile thing we uncovered he became a big brother – clumsy but loving. It really changed a lot of things in the film. At the end, what he discovers is that he is actually a father and he ignored that beforehand.

Q. Matthias’ character does some really unlikeable things in the film, so how did you make it so that an audience could eventually empathise with him?
Jacques Audiard: Hitchcock used to say that the better the villain is… the more violent, the better the film and the better the bad guy, the better the film.

Thomas Bidegain: If you start with an obvious thing and say all the characters are great, then it would be difficult to move from there. If you want to build a hero, he has to be able to change at the end. But the difficult thing with Ali’s character is that he is someone who really evolves in the last minutes of the film somehow, whereas Stephanie’s character is really changing all the time, going from an arrogant princess to a disabled lady. And so, it was difficult for Ali’s character to be written because he evolves at the end.

Jacques Audiard: Ali’s character is not nice. He’s rough, he’s tough but his main problem is that inside he doesn’t have the words or the language. But the great thing about him is that he is able to say I love you.

Q. There’s a real hardness to Marion’s character, especially towards the end once she gets involved in the fighting. Did you relish bringing that side of Marion out?
Jacques Audiard: Normally, a feminine character will look at men fighting and they won’t like it – the muscles and blood. It is quite shocking and it would shock me. But for me what Stephanie sees when she watches the fight is the braveness, the courage of that guy. He is very courageous and she knows what courage is because she is also courageous.

*Q. Was there anything you changed from the novel to make it more unpredictable?
Thomas Bidegain: No, the ending was always like this. We wanted the film to be unpredictable but it is because it’s character-driven. It’s really the journey of two characters and we sometimes saw it as an adventure film… as a ride where you just get on and go with the characters. As we were writing, the characters were taking us through the story. It was difficult to write ‘scene 54’ before having written ‘scene 53’ because we were never quite sure of what the characters would do in the scene… would they make love? Would they talk finally or not? It was really a game between those characters and us writers.

Q. Did you then go back and change anything?
Thomas Bidegain: We changed the characters. It’s always the same when you write, you build the story up and you find yourself at a dead end, so you go back to the beginning and you change the definition of the character. And so that will allow you to go a little further in the story.

Jacques Audiard: Sometimes we felt we would tell the story of the two characters at the same level but both characters are not equals. The main character is him. He’s the one that brings us into the story. But because of the accident involving Stephanie’s character, people tend to think she is the lead character but that’s wrong. Alain was the lead character. And I’d also like to stress the importance of the kid because we always saw the kid as an invisible narrator somehow. At the beginning, his eyes are closed and he wakes up at the end. The film, we know, will produce very strong images – orcas, women with no legs, [bare knuckle] fights… those are images from fairytales and images that a kid will see. It’s a reality seen through the eyes of a lost kid.

Rust & Bone

Q. What was it about the short stories that compelled you to turn them into a full feature?
Jacques Audiard: In Craig Davidson’s short stories there was an entire universe and a lot of things we would never have thought about ourselves – the Marine land, the fights, the kid, the mutilation and the general atmosphere of devastation, of crisis. We were just coming out of A Prophet and it was a movie of jail, of men, there was no light, no space, no women, no love. I wanted to move in the opposite direction with love and a strong female character. So, what we did was we really imposed on Craig Davidson’s stories a love story.

Q. Rust & Bone is based on a collection of short stories that neither of the main characters were in. So, what informed your characters?
Thomas Bidegain: There was no love story in the short stories and in the short story the character of Marion [Cotillard] was the story of a man who worked at SeaWorld and lost one leg. The minute we thought it should be a woman we took the decision she should lose both her legs because then she will become some kind of an erotic proposition. So, the character of Stephanie doesn’t really exist in the short stories.

And the character of the man was in the short story a boxing guy. But we chose not to make him that straight away. Boxing would be the objective for him – it would be the end, not the beginning. So, at the beginning he’s a guy who doesn’t know he can fight, really, but he likes it and he’s not afraid of anything, so he starts fighting. So, the characters are very different than what you have in the short story. But the universe as it is described in the short stories is definitely what’s still there and what attracted is to the story, as well as the universe of crisis and economic catastrophe.

Q. How did you balance the three stories in the film?
Jacques Audiard: We found the balance through the story of the children. It is the story of the kid. It is the kid who has the last word. He’s the one who talked to us about the future.

Q. Can you talk about the use of Katy Perry’s Fireworks?
Jacques Audiard: It’s really tough on the animals because it really is the actual music of the SeaWorld. So, they have to listen to it four times a day.

Q. I’m curious about your background. What interests you about the underworld? It seems to be a recurring theme…
Jacques Audiard: Because I’m a bourgeois [laughs]! Making films is always going toward something you don’t know, going for the unknown. It could be a geographical territory, it could be a relationship between two people, it could be psychological but it’s always something you don’t know. It’s really the way I use cinema. I use it to look at something, somewhere and let it be different. So, I’ve learned a lot of things with film and I make films for that reason. As a viewer, that’s what I like too. A film that doesn’t teach me anything will leave me cold.

Rust & Bone

Q. How has the relationship between the two of you evolved and how do you challenge each other?
Jacques Audiard: We stimulate each other. It’s difficult to talk about it. But it’s been a while now. It took us a long time to write A Prophet and a year and a half, almost two years on this one.

Thomas Bidegain: Also, during shooting I watch the dailies and we talk about things together almost every day and make notes. But I keep on writing during the shooting, so the film keeps on writing itself during the whole process. I don’t know… the important thing is not to let things go that you don’t like – to detect it, to know what’s not good and to say it to the other guy.

Jacques Audiard: In a collaboration like ours, there’s no ego at all. When his idea is better we use it and when we don’t have good ideas then we’re frustrated at the same time and we go to sleep angry [laughs]. That’s it!

Q. What part of the process of making these films together does each of you find the most exciting?
Thomas Bidegain: I think the quality of Jacques that I most like is to let everything that happens enter the film… to keep the ball rolling all the time. I think that’s a rare quality for a director… to never close the door to possibility.

Jacques Audiard: Cinema cannot be narcissistic or egotistic. The difference between cinema and literature, for instance, is that literature is a solitary practice. Contemporary art is also solitary. Cinema and theatre are collective gestures. When we write, it’s two people writing together and that’s normal. And when I’m on set maybe I can do maybe do the light and frame the film – I used to be an editor too – but it’s the collectivisation of all the talents. And at the end, the idea you had and the idea you thought about yourself is better because all of the talent involved adds to each other. Isn’t that beautiful? I hate… I think people who make films in order to impose their ego… I don’t understand.

Q. What do you think about the state of filmmaking in France and world-wide?
Jacques Audiard: I don’t know if we’re really qualified to talk about that. I still really love cinema. But I can say that I really adored it at one point. But something has changed and I do not agree with it. So the question is what is it I don’t like? It’s the relationship between cinema and reality. At one point, cinema was helping us to understand the world and most of the time now cinema is telling us stories about cinema and not about reality. But the films I like today are strange… they come from Ireland, from Korea, from China because they tell me something that I don’t know and inform me about the state of the world.

Read our review of Rust & Bone