Sometimes there's just no getting away from Marion Cotillard. Hers is the first face I see when I arrive at Gare du Nord in Paris, propped up in bed with outsize, doodled-on breasts, on a billboard advertising a semi-autobiographical comedy directed by and co-starring her partner Guillaume Canet.
En route to her hotel on a sleepy avenue in the 8th arrondissement, I also spy the 41-year-old French actress on the poster for the César Awards, France's equivalent of the Oscars. The image comes from her 2013 film Blood Ties: she's in a black lace pencil dress, eyes sharp and steady, lips dark as blood.
Were she anyone else, by the time we actually sit down to talk, I'd have probably been sick of the sight of her. But as the 10 years since her Oscar-winning role as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose suggest, Cotillard does not seem to be an actress on whom you can overdose.
That's partly to do with the sheer scope of her work, which in the last two years alone has embraced everything from Shakespeare to a video-game blockbuster. But it's more down to Cotillard herself, whose expressive precision and extraordinary face for cinema - open and serene, but with emotion trembling just below the skin - make her the great silent movie star of our time.
It's Only the End of the World, which is released here on Friday, is something for fans of that face to look forward to - an insatiable, tartly comic psychodrama, co-starring Cotillard, about a high-stakes family reunion shot largely in intimate close-up. It's directed by Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan (he's 27 years old, this is somehow his sixth film) and was shot in 20 breakneck days; Cotillard and her fellow French cast members - Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye and Gaspard Ulliel - were together for only six.
Cotillard plays Catherine, the timorous sister-in-law of Ulliel's young writer, who has one last chance to bid farewell to his relations, thanks to a ticking terminal illness. The film won the Grand Prix at last year's Cannes Film Festival, where it also caused a good old-fashioned critical crisis. Reviews, like its characters' blustery moods, were all over the shop.
Today, chatting in the early evening over restorative macarons, Cotillard is on a contrastingly even keel, despite being "super tired" by her own admission. She is, after all, eight months pregnant with her second child with Canet, and the smallish, hardish hotel chair on which she continually repositions herself looks about as comfortable as an upturned garden fork. Her five-year-old son, Marcel, is playing next door with his father. Before the interview, she affectionately ruffles his gold-white hair - Marcel, that is, not Canet - and plants a flurry of kisses on his cheek.
The last two years have been a six-film marathon for Cotillard - beginning with It's Only the End of the World, which she shot back in May 2015. After the birth, she says she plans to "at least for a few months, stay away from a movie set," before adding: "A few months might become a year."
But she hasn't been deliberately trying to pack in as many roles as possible before the birth. "It just happened that way," she says in quiet, considered English. "A lot of propositions were irresistible. And technically I could do everything, so I decided to have this experience, which was kind of crazy."
That meant much time spent apart from Canet and Marcel, though she worked out along the way "how to keep this connection with my family and especially my son and my - my man", she smiles, eventually landing on the English mot juste. (The two have been a couple for 10 years, but first met as co-stars in the 2003 romance Love Me If You Dare.) "I've learnt how to balance my life as a lover and a mother - with all those other lives I had to bring to life in my work."
Last September, that careful equilibrium was momentarily sent reeling. Cotillard was caught in the splashback from Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's divorce: she and Pitt played lovers while filming Robert Zemeckis's duplicitous spy romance Allied over the summer and gossip sites wrongly equated fact with fiction. (Cotillard and Canet both posted sturdy rebuttals to rumours of an affair on the social network Instagram). Did she immediately realise people would make that assumption? "No, I didn't," she says. "But I only found out he was getting divorced when I was already getting dragged into the story. Everything happened at the same time. Like, they announced they got divorced, and" - her eyes narrowing - "immediately people started to try to find out why."
One upshot, film-wise, was panic at Paramount, as the studio scrambled to work out how to promote a turbulent love story during the very public end of its leading man's marriage.
With crisp dismay, Cotillard describes the PR meltdown as having "ruined the release of the movie completely". "I loved that movie," she sighs. "I think it's a beautiful story. But we didn't do anything in the press at all in the US. No magazines, no TV, nothing.
"It's a love story, and we should have talked about it this way," she despairs. "But they freaked out and tried to turn it into an action movie, which it is not at all."
By then, Cotillard and Canet had already filmed that soon-to-premiere semi-autobiographical comedy, adverts for which currently plaster Paris. Called Rock 'n' Roll, it shows the couple as eccentric versions of themselves: he a 40-something ex-bright young thing, haplessly negotiating a mid-life crisis, she an achingly earnest thesp who insists on roles that feature "either a disability or an accent".
Cotillard admits she can "abandon" herself to demanding parts, and says the climb out afterwards can be tricky. She made a conscious effort not to take the darkness of Macbeth home to her son after filming Justin Kurzel's adaptation of the Shakespeare play with Michael Fassbender three years ago; shaking off the ghost of Piaf took eight months and a shamanic ritual in Peru.
Though sending up that dedication feels very France-specific - the couple are intensely famous there; a kind of locally reared Brangelina that outlasted the multinational version - Rock 'n' Roll was influenced, in a roundabout way, by It's Only the End of the World, which Cotillard was about to shoot when Canet wrote his script. Dolan's previous films are all set in French-speaking Quebec, so in Rock 'n' Roll, Canet has Cotillard obsessively practicing Québécois in readiness to work with the flamboyant young Canadian.
"I don't have a natural ability to find accents," she says. "It's hours of work a day for weeks and months, and he wanted to poke fun at that."
Cotillard was raised in a theatrical family: her mother and father, Niseema Theillaud and Jean-Claude Cotillard, are both stage actors and directors, and brought up Marion and her younger identical twin brothers, Quentin and Guillaume - now a sculptor and a writer respectively - in the Paris suburb of Alfortville.
But she disavows any link between the highly strung family on screen and her own: instead, tactfully unnamed "friends" provided her inspiration. She does admit, however, with eyes as wide and enthused as a mad scientist's, that she often found herself studying her son to find new perspectives on basic human behaviour.
"He was kind of a lab rat for me," she says. "I had, every day, every night under my eyes, the evolution of a new human being. I would catch myself staring at him, trying to figure him out, trying to feel again what I felt during that same process of evolution - from crawling to walking to mumbling to talking."
Two summers ago, when Marcel had just turned three, she and Canet took him to see the French version of the animated film Minions, in which they voiced the two villains played in the English release by Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm. He didn't recognise them, but piped up the next day that the characters had sounded "weird", and was later let in on the secret. Telling this story, she warms and softens - her expression worlds away from the various severe and sultry Cotillards pasted up around Paris's wintry streets.
But the French capital, even less so today than usual, is no city of smiles. Outside, two faces dominate the news-stands: both women's, both severe. One belongs to Penelope Fillon, the wife of the conservative presidential hopeful François Fillon, and recipient of €500,000 of public money for an alleged non-job that seems likely to sink her husband's candidacy. The other is that of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right populist Front National, and front-runner in the first-round polls.
Cotillard was in Los Angeles for the Allied premiere on US election day, and believes France is susceptible to the same rising tide of illiberalism that swept Trump into the White House.
"The same poison is used in each and every case," she says of Le Pen's swelling presidential hopes. "Nobody thought Trump would be elected, nobody thought Brexit would be real. So you cannot ignore that it could happen. Months ago I would have never thought that we could go that low. But today, I have to say, I'm not sure any more."
Amid that uncertainty, doesn't she worry that her job - essentially, make-believe - somehow matters less than it may have done six months ago?
"No!" she replies, with a look so intent I feel as if I could somehow topple forward into it. "Art can do a lot. Art is a way to express things freely. It brings questions. Art is solid. It's the world that's fragile."
not mine.credit and source: INDEPENDENT