Balance was also clearly something that was on Audiard's mind in a film that he describes as his most challenging to date, even in contrast with his ambitious and epic previous film. "'A Prophet' was a very heavy film to make," the director told us, "but it was extremely dynamic, we'd go to jail in the morning, and light a match, it would ignite. Here it was different, there was a big difference between the realism and the stylization, it was always a game to find the balance, if you're too realistic it gets boring, and if you're too stylized, you don't believe it anymore. So finding the right tuning, the right balance, you had to be extremely careful the whole time."
It wasn't just walking the line tonally, but also in finding the structure that proved difficult; the script saw Cotillard and Schoenaerts' characters as more equal, but in the editing room, Ali and his son Sam became the beating heart of the film. "'A Prophet' was complicated," Audiard continued, "we had a huge amount of material, and a long story, so it was very difficult to build, and to work out how to make time pass, in the writing and in the editing room. Here, the complicated thing was finding that balance, but also finding the balance between the two characters. Because for a while, both characters were equals, but not now. Now the main character is the man, he's the one who gives the complete arc to the film, because of the kid. We had this idea that the kid was like a silent narrator, because you see him with his eyes closed at the beginning, and you see him wake up at the end. That story, with the incredible and monstrous images, with the orca and the fights and the woman with no legs, is like seeing through the eyes of a lost child."
As such, Sam, played by young Armand Verdure, takes the most prominent role for a child in one of Audiard's films to date. It marked another new challenge for the director, but he cracked it eventually. "It was very difficult, very complicated" Audiard admitted. "Armand is a great kid, but it's very unstable on set. So I understood it shouldn't be several people talking to him, it should be just one. When he was acting with Matthias, it would be Matthias directing. When he was with Marion, it was Marion directing him."
To hear from Schoenaerts, it's this kind of commitment to the performances that sets Audiard apart as a director. "Jacques is really all about his characters. Because he knows a story gets told through its characters, so he's all over his actors. He wants to work with actors who are artists, who feed him with ideas. So he can have that permanent, electrifying exchange. He's very alive on set, everything has to be discovered in the moment. It's about the here and now, it's not about what we thought of before. So that's very, very exciting. And intense. And when you find that, it's euphoric." And the results are certainly reflected in the finished film.
In addition to the accomplished work behind the camera, the music in the film is first rate, with a lovely score by Alexandre Desplat mixed with cuts from the likes of Bon Iver, Lykke Li and, most surprisingly of all, a key emotional scene scored to Katy Perry's "Firework." According to the director, the song and score serve quite different purposes. "There's a score composed by Alexandre Desplat just for the film," Audiard told us, "and that really helped me with the characters. The other music, was to let time pass, for the atmosphere, but mainly for the story. So the score was for the characters, and the additional music is more to tell the story." As for the actual song choices, none were planned from the script stage, falling into place either because they were inspirations for the film, or in the case of Perry, happenstance. "Bon Iver, we listened to a lot when we were writing. Katy Perry is the actual music of the show [at the water park where Cotillard's character works]. The animals have to listen to Katy Perry four times a day... that's why they can get aggressive!"
As we reported before, Audiard is considering both a musical and a western for his next project, but for the time being, he's focused on promoting "Rust & Bone," which Sony Pictures Classics have high Oscars hopes for, not least for Cotillard. One category it won't be competing in, however, is the Foreign Language prize, the French selection committee having picked out global smash hit "The Intouchables" instead. Audiard isn't too fussed, though. "They chose us last time, for 'A Prophet,' so that time they rejected the other films. This time, they rejected us, and chose another film, which is fine. They're doing their job. 'The Intouchables' was such a phenomenon in France."
As for Schoenaerts, he's got the remake of "Loft" and Guillaume Canet's "Blood Ties" on the way in 2013, and "Rust & Bone" is sure to only make him more in demand. We asked if there were any directors he hoped to work with down the line. "Will they read it?," he joked, before continuing "Let's put five down as an exercise. Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Michael Mann. And let's put a European director in there... Fatih Akin. That's a good list, I could come up with more, but that's quite diverse." So, Mr. Anderson, if you're keen, get in touch...
"Rust and Bone" hits theaters on Friday, November 23rd, in limited release.