Guillaume Canet’s sensational, highly diverse acting career has garnered him a reputation rendering him a household name in his native France, as well earning him significant recognition internationally. The celebrated film figure has also thrived in forging the notoriously tricky transition from acting to directing, a delicate evolution that takes as much brazen pluck as it does sensitive astuteness. Indeed, Canet’s gradual shift into directorial work strikingly demonstrates his unique ability to hold down the title of actor, filmmaker and screenwriter with unwavering adeptness.
Beginning his acting career in the world of theatre and television before moving on to film, Canet starred in tens of TV movies and feature productions, including English director Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000) starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Yann Samuell French-Belgian hit Love Me If You Dare (2003), in which he starred alongside Marion Cotillard. Afterwards, he directed a varied assortment of productions while continuing with his acting engagements, making large waves with his critical, box-office success Tell No One (2006), one of a long string of César and Étoile d’Or-nominated films that have captured French and international audiences alike.
He made his initial foray onto the directorial scene with a duo of short films, Sans regrets (1996) and Je t’aime (1998), before collaborating with Jean-Christophe Pagnac two years later on Avalanche, a terse portrayal of a young, drug-addled couple, produced as part of the French anthology film Drug Scenes, a composite of 24 short French-language films centring on the theme of drug abuse. That same year, the actor-turned- director returned with the 10-minute- long comedy, J’peux pas dormir… starring Isabelle Carré, Vincent Elbaz and his prior collaborator Jean- Christophe Pagnac, following a young Antoine’s doggedly unabashed endeavour to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend, Julie, after a year long separation by simply returning to her apartment as if nothing had changed – despite the obvious presence of her new boyfriend sleeping in front of the television.
Canet’s feature-length debut, the wittily absorbing crime-comedy Whatever You Say (2002), emerged as his first breakthrough film and a relatively successful box- office hit. Played by the actor-director himself, the film centres on determined young production assistant, Bastien, who is awarded the opportunity to host his own television show after being spotted by high-powered producer, Jean-Louis Broustal (François Berléand) – a perspicuous drama that garnered Canet a nomination at the César Awards for Best First Work of Fiction. The director extended his exploration of the darker, enigmatic aspects of human relationships with the mystery drama Tell No One, a film-noir style portrayal of a middle-aged couple’s shattering experiences after Alexandre (François Cluzet) is singled out as a suspect in his wife’s sudden murder, a predicament rendered more baffling when he receives clues causing him to believe that his wife is in fact alive.
Canet’s temporary departure from his trademark comedic tone is reversed with his return to more familiar terrain in the endearingly funny drama, Little White Lies (2010), an exploration of the unavoidability of pain and grief in emotionally intricate relationships as a group of longtime friends decide to resume their vacation plans despite a friend’s hospitalization as a result of a near-fatal accident. Starring a stellar ensemble cast – François Cluzet (his return after Tell No One), Marion Cotillard, Benoît Magimel, Gilles Lellouche, Jean Dujardin and more – the film portrays the inevitable breakdown that occurs when their secrets and regrets threaten to erupt – a subtly transfixing, genre-bending, emotional-cartwheel that gained a nomination for an Audience Award at the European Film Awards.
Three years later, Canet triumphantly returned with his fourth feature, the Brooklyn-bound, 1970s crime thriller Blood Ties (2013), centring on the highly- strained relationship between two brothers on opposite sides of the law – middle- aged Chris (Clive Owen), a recently released ex-convict and his younger brother Frank (Billy Crudup), a young police officer with a promising career. Featuring a heavyweight cast of Hollywood starlets – brown-tressed, charming Mila Kunis plays Chris’s new girlfriend Natalie with whom he failingly attempts to forge a new life, Frank’s family-bound, former lover Vanessa is embodied by a beguilingly Zoe Saldana and Marion Cotillard – signalling Canet’s third directorial collaboration with his long-time wife – plays the alluringly troubled Monica, a drug-addicted prostitute.
The director swiftly followed-up the star-studded feature with a brief return to short-length productions with the release of Ivresse (2013), a stylistic, substance abuse public announcement created in partnership with French-based organizations L’Association Ferdinand and le Fondation VINCI Autoroutes – starring Juliette Dol and Sébastien Magne – which tells the truncated story of a young couple’s pivotal life moments, from their first encounter to an event that irrevocably shatters both of their lives. Currently in cinemas in France, Canet’s latest feature, Rock ‘n Roll, an irreverent, tongue-in- cheek meta-comedy narrating the director’s experiences (Canet plays himself in the film) as he struggles to come to terms with the apparent fact that he is not the audience-attracting film star that he was in his younger years, portrays his brazen attempts to prove his naysayers wrong by shaking up his image with the help of his partner, Marion Cotillard (also playing herself in the film).
Canet has proved himself to be a helmer with immensely wide-ranging directorial capabilities, producing an eclectic variety of productions varying from bittersweet romantic dramas to side-splittingly witty comedies and somber thrillers. Over the decades, just as he has carved out an extraordinarily stellar acting career, he is likewise cementing a place for himself as a formidable directorial talent with an ever rising star.