At any given moment in Hollywood history, certain actors will fill a certain niche. One such niche is the cute little French girl or gamine. During the 1940s, that niche was occupied by Simone Simon. During the ’50s, it was filled by Leslie Caron. From approximately 2001 (Amélie) through 2006 (The Da Vinci Code), America’s favorite gamine was the big-eyed, waifish Audrey Tautou.
However, in 2007, a new star arose to challenge Tautou’s supremacy. Her name was Marion Cotillard, and even if you didn’t see her as singer Edith Piaf in La Vie En Rose, you probably caught her at this year’s Academy Awards where she won the Best Actress Oscar for her Piaf portrayal.
Cotillard had previously appeared in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003), making a negligible impression as the young spouse of Billy Crudup’s character. She was far more memorable in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement (2004, above left), acting in support of – yes – Audrey Tautou (above right). A Very Long Engagement was Jeunet and Tautou’s epic follow-up to their very successful Amélie. Tautou played a young Frenchwoman searching for her fiancé who disappeared somewhere in the trenches of World War I. In a parallel subplot, Cotillard played a prostitute who is systematically murdering the officers responsible for her boyfriend’s death in those same trenches. (We see her getting ready to murder one such officer in the frame below.)
Tautou and Cotillard both scored César nominations (the French Oscar) in respectively the lead and supporting categories for their Very Long Engagement work. Cotillard won! Here’s another odd parallel. In 2002, Tautou garnered raves as a Turkish immigrant, part of London’s underground immigrant economy, in Dirty Pretty Things (from a screenplay by Stephen Knight, author of the similarly themed Eastern Promises). A year earlier, Cotillard played temperamentally opposed twins in a French neo-noir entitled simply … Pretty Things (Les Jolies choses).
2006’s The Da Vinci Code may not have elevated Mlle. Tautou’s status in the eyes of critics, but the film was an astounding financial success, grossing more than $217 million worldwide. Meanwhile, Mlle. Cotillard, noting perhaps the trend to give awards to performers who (a) play real-life celebrities, particularly celebrities with substance abuse problems, and who (b) significantly uglify themselves in the process, scored not only critical success, but an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a César for her performance as the alcohol and morphine addicted Piaf.
But Tautou fans need not despair. The ever-adorable Audrey will soon be appearing as real-life dress designer and perfume magnate Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel in Coco avant Chanel. Watch out, Marion!