Love Lessons We’ve Learnt From Marion Cotillard

Eight on-screen love lives of an Oscar winner

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A rare mix of steel and porcelain-like fragility, Marion Cotillard is a throwback to the days of bona-fide silver screen stars. In France her status is well-established, with lead roles dating back almost a decade, while her range has been evident to multiplexer-goers globally with bruised, scene-stealing turns in Public Enemies (2009), Nine (2009) and Inception (2010). But you wouldn’t find any of these characters in Cupid’s out-tray. In fact, almost to a woman they’re catastrophically unlucky in love. So where is Marion going wrong? With Little White Lies offering even more heartache, it seemed like a good time to turn agony aunt and see what lessons we can glean from her romantic travails.

Other half: Daniel (pizza delivery man/cab driver)

Movie: Taxi (1998)

This Luc Besson-scripted French actioner kicks things off for Cotillard with a frustration: it’s that classic thing of girl-meets-boy, boy-prefers-cars, girl-gets-frustrated, girl-signs-on-for-two-sequels-anyway. Those two Taxi follow-ups stick crazed pizza-boy Daniel (Samy Naceri) in a variety of high-speed scenarios involving Yakuza gangs, German bank robbers and the Marseilles underworld, but still leave Cotillard’s put-up Lilly twiddling her thumbs at home. Before you can say ‘Disparu en 60 Secondes’, Daniel is screaming around the Côte d'Azur in a souped-up cab, while Lilly is making despairing phone calls wondering why he isn’t there to light her fire. All we’re saying is that anyone who needs to be asked this should be hit over the head with a monkey wrench.

Emotional status: Seriously frustrated.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: Give pizza-peddling petrolheads a wide berth - in fact, run a mile if he shows even the slightest interest in Top Gear, no matter how much free stuffed-crust he brings home.

Other half: Julien

Movie: Love Me If You Dare (2003)

Romantically, things don’t improve for Cotillard in this black Amélie-esque fairytale. Like the Bonnie and Clyde of comedy wind-ups, Sophie and Guillaume Canet’s Julien are fully deserving each other – and not in an altogether good way. They egg each other on to increasingly crazy dares – taking the hand brake off the school bus; punching the school jock; standing up a bride at the altar and other classic japes – each precipitated by the passing of a toy tin between them. Why? Who knows? Maybe they’ve watched too many episodes of You’ve Been Framed. Whatever the reason, their profound bond is one of the weirdest in the history of cinema. They sleep together but don’t have sex, and head on a gleeful course to certain catastrophe like Jeremy Beadle at the helm of the Starship Enterprise. Love them or hate them, this could be the most dysfunctional of Cotillard’s on-screen romances – which, as you’ll see, is saying something.

Emotional status: Warped.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: Mutual dependence and psychotic schadenfreude are not the basis of a healthy relationship. Try long walks and Scrabble.

Other half: Max Skinner (trader)

Movie: A Good Year (2006)

On the surface, Ridley Scott's airy romance seems like one of those rare occasions when Cotillard is given a character who finds true love. There are no crumbling, Inception-like hinterlands to stand between café owner Fanny and her beau, Max (Russell Crowe); no FBI agents or plane crashes to threaten their love; no psychological flaws to stunt their relationship. But wait! We forgot: he's an insufferable bastard. That's right, rich-as-Croesus he may be, but Max is a smug, charmless yuppie with terrible hair, questionable ethics and the road sense of a lemming with a driving license. He's also big fromage in the kind of financial institution we'd quite like to see John Dillinger rob. What's to actually love here? Rien.

Emotional status: Rash.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: *Do you really want to be with someone who runs you over? Go and find yourself a nice bank robber. *

Other halves: Marcel Cerdan (boxer), Jacques Pills (singer)

Movie: La Vie En Rose (2007)

Here is arguably the least lucky-in-love of all Cotillard’s characters. Curly-haired chanteuse Édith Piaf was a French icon, but the “little sparrow” fluttered tragically from relationship to relationship. Budding shrinks will point to her brutal childhood. Sure, abandonment by your dad and adolescence in the circus doesn’t exactly lend itself to a lifetime of stable relationships – although Dumbo came out okay – but luck played its cruel part too. Nothing brings a tear quicker than the moment of disbelief when she’s told her great love, Marcel Cerdan (Jean-Pierre Martins), has died in a plane crash. It doesn’t get easier: her marriage to Jacques Pills (Laurent Olmedo) ends in disaster, while the movie would have needed a Return Of The King-style extension just to squeeze in her other doomed flings. Yes, that's right, there was too much real-life heartbreak to fit into just one movie.

Emotional status: Merde.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: Life was like a box of chocolates for Piaf, only full of those yucky orange ones. Key lessons? Don’t dabble in drugs and/or feckless nightclub crooners.

Other half: Guido Contini (filmmaker)

Movie: Nine (2010)

In Rob Marshall’s musical Marion Cotillard plays lovely Luisa Contini, long-suffering wife of director Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis). Again, he's not a brilliant choice of life partner. In fact, we think she’d have been justified leaving him a long time before Nine picks up his story – like the mid-way point of Two, for instance – but she sticks around, loving him despite his philandering ways, creative block and dodgy vests. Here’s yet another broken-hearted Cotillard character whose loyalty we can practically hear fraying. Is Guido even worth hanging around for? Will he ever stop chasing other women like some kind of Milanese Benny Hill? And what happens if his next movie unmasks him as the next Uwe Boll? Run, woman! Run!

Emotional status: Wounded and ready to move on.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: Sister, even if it’s got Louis Vuitton on the label, it’s still baggage.

Other half: John Dillinger (bank robber)

Movie: Public Enemies (2009)

Johnny Depp’s bank robber may be the one holding up the banks, but it’s Cotillard’s tear-stained moll who makes off with the movie. The pairing sizzles with enough chemistry to power the Chicago L train but it’s no spoiler to say that while their relationship might have many things going for it, longevity isn’t one of them. How do we know it’s going to end in heartbreak again? Could it be the enormous number of people who want to kill her boyfriend? Could it be the relentless pursuit of Christian Bale’s G-man Melvin Purvis? Yes, there’s dancing and romancing, but Dillinger is a poor bet to settle down and spend his weekends on the golf course. Frechette’s eyes blaze with defiance as she falls in deeper with the sharp-suited heistman and further onto the FBI’s shitlist, but she knows it’s doomed. DOOMED! And so it proves.

Emotional status: Heartbroken and imprisoned.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: Try dating an accountant. Not a Mob accountant, just a normal one.

Other half: Dominic Cobb (extractor)

Movie: Inception (2010)

It sounds harsh to question the romantic choices Cotillard’s character makes in Inception – she’s dead, for one thing – but like poison ivy wrapped around a creepy gravestone, her presence in Cobb’s dreams hardly has us pining for the afterlife. We’re no expert, but we’re saying that any relationship that involves regular attempts to lure your other half to their death is probably unhealthy. The marriage must have had its happier moments (the Cobb kids are testament to that) but eternal purgatory in a crumbling metropolis has clearly taken its toll on their communication skills. It's bound to. Mal can’t be blamed, though: it was her husband who set her on the road to ruin. Another handsome man in the suit; another bundle of trouble.

Emotional status: Dead.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: Don’t marry anyone with their own dream machine. Also, if you’re dead, let it go.

Other half: Franck (musician)

Movie: Little White Lies (2011)

When it comes to romance, Cotillard’s characters have generated barely enough happily-ever-after to cover a postage stamp. Extending that fairytale analogy to breaking point, even the notoriously stone-hearted Grimm brothers would probably be ready to push a handsome prince her way. But no, it’s more frogs in Little White Lies, her most grounded work for a while. Cotillard plays Marie, a lost soul who shelters from her heartache in a bubble of marijuana, casual sex and denial. Actually, written down, that doesn’t sound so bad. Marie, though, is as toxically unhappy as Mal and as bruised as Billie Frechette. Her ex-boyfriend lies in a coma, and she can’t – or won’t – let current fling Franck (Maxim Nucci) in, even though he’s a devilishly handsome musician with a great beard. Zut, and indeed, alors. Happily, in real life things have worked out much more smoothly for Cotillard. She’s expecting a baby with LWL director (and Love Me If You Dare co-star) Guillaume Canet.

Emotional status: Hurt but hopeful.

What Empire’s agony aunt says: We’re pretty sure we mentioned this before but DRUGS ARE BAD! Instead, try sharing your heartache with your friends and opening up to new love. Failing that, sign up to star in a brainless rom-com, stat!

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