Rust And Bone (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: StudioCanal) Running time: 122 minutes approx.
Wannabe kick boxer Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his five year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure) arrives in Antibes, southern France from Belgium with virtually nothing to their names. Ali gets a job as a bouncer at a night club where, on his first night he breaks up a fight in which a lone woman Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) was injured.
Ali takes her home, learning that Stéphanie is a killer whale trainer at the local Marineland sea park. During a display show one of the killer whales runs wild and mounts the platform injuring Stéphanie so badly in the process that she is forced to have her legs amputated. Trapped in a depressive funk Stéphanie calls Ali for company.
In his follow-up to 2009’s multi award winning unflinching crime drama A Prophet director Jacques Audiard brings us this unusual melodrama, based on a short story by based on Craig Davidson, that takes the mismatched romance convention and gives it a gritty makeover. It may be this unconventional approach which has cost it the mainstream considerations award wise it should have earned, but it lifts up it above the many other films in this genre.
At the heart of this story is a theme of pain and suffering and how we deal with this. Ali is an ex-boxer who has a habit of letting his temper run away from him, even with his son whom he clearly adores, but finds the responsibility of rearing him a strain. If he can’t fix a problem by shouting at it then he ignores it. Ali’s attitude toward people is honest to the point of being brusque but he generally has his heart in the right place, he just has difficulty expressing himself in ways other than giving into his base instincts.
It’s never explored why Stéphanie should call Ali of all people but having shut herself away from her boyfriend and her friends – we can assume that Ali’s noble deed at the nightclub, the fact he left her his number (which may have stemmed from a fellow bouncer giving Ali hints on how to pick up vulnerable women), or maybe Ali’s direct approach that she felt would benefit her in her rehab.
True to form, Ali is practically oblivious to Stéphanie’s missing limbs, showing only a minor initial concern before actively encouraging her to leave the house and later, go for a swim. This could be Ali being deliberately obtuse but it seems it works wonders for both Stéphanie’s ego and her resolve. As the relationship grows the two become physically intimate (once again Ali totally unaffected by the absence of bipedal extremities) but while it is strongly hinted that Stéphanie is looking for more, for Ali it’s just another bonk, going so far as say this was only on if he is available.
For Ali’s crisis point, it begins when he meets Martial (Bouli Lanners), an installer of spy cameras on behalf of store employers who also runs street fight betting rings. Ali is encouraged to fight and proves successful. But, fate has a funny way of bringing out the best and worst in people and just as a tragedy caused Stéphanie to re-evaluate her life, Ali too is woken up by a life or death situation involving young Sam.
As much as the story requires much attention, this film offers many visual delights too. The scenes with the killer whales at Marineland, shot in Attenborough-esque slow motion, are magical. It is hard to imagine these feared mammoth beasts can move with such grace. In a later scene where Stéphanie returns to the park for the first time since the accident, she stands in front of an aquarium wall and shares a personal and tender moment with killer whale, which mimics her movements and gestures like a mirrored reflection, a touching scene of the pair making up after an argument.
To make Stéphanie the believable and physically engaging character she is, the credit goes to both Marion Cotillard, who frankly should have been Oscar nominated, and the special effects team. Cotillard’s legs are covered with green socks and removed via computer, with make up and prosthetics on her knees to create authentic looking stumps. The effect is startlingly realistic with some people even questioning if Cotillard genuinely underwent a double amputation for the role!
As we have seen from her sublime Oscar winning performance as Edith Piaf La Vie En Rose Cotillard is not afraid to commit herself wholesale to a role when necessary and Stéphanie is another instance where she involved herself deeply into every aspect of her character from the physical to the emotional. A nuanced look here, and simply facial or body gesture there is more than sufficient to convey every thought and notion that runs through Stéphanie’s head.
Matthias Schoenaerts full steam ahead approach to his portrayal of the “all brawn no brains” Ali is a superb counterbalance to Cotillard’s subtle and methodical essaying of Stéphanie. His chemistry with young Armand Verdure seems completely natural while his emotional growth is steadily charted without any unnecessary and hasty changes in his personality to curry audience favour.
It’s likely the direct and uncompromising approach Jacques Audiard took to making this film will lead to some disappointment for those looking for a more conventional romantic drama, but Rust And Bone sets out its agenda from the start as a film that defies convention. It’s a bold but beautiful film that, despite its heavy melancholic motifs, offers hope and redemption but without mawkish sentimentality while remaining touching and poignant.
2.0 Stereo LPCM
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Audio Commentary with Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain and Arnaud Calistri
The Making of Rust and Bone
The Special Effects of Rust and Bone
Rating – ****
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