Movie Review: RUST AND BONE

Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone”

Release date: November 23, 2012 (ltd.; wider release December 7, 2012)
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
Screenplay by: Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Celine Sallette
Rating: R; Running Time: 120 minutes

Do not let the synopsis of Rust and Bone deter you. This is not some horrific Jaws-ian depiction of a woman being ripped apart by a vicious aquatic killer. Filmmaker Jacques Audiard employs such exquisite visual taste, that the film is washed clean of any graphic exploitation.

In the opening moments, we almost feel that we’ve splashed back down into Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and The Butterfly territory, with saturated colors, fragmented anatomies and faces all swirling together. These images stay bookmarked in our minds; when callbacks occur in later acts, we appreciate the set-up all the more.

As a follow up to the 2009, Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Film A Prophet, director/writer Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain have delivered a second stunning film that guides us through the journey of not one but two flawed lead characters.

We initially meet Matthias Schoenaerts’ Ali and, as his name suggests, he was once a boxer. Unemployed, and with a five-year-old son in tow, he scrounges on the streets of northern France until he can get to Antibes, hoping his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) will take him in. She isn’t all that happy to see him but because of his son, she acquiesces. However, she also makes sure Ali has a job, calling in a favor to get him hired as a bouncer in a nightclub.

The first fight he has to break up is between some fellow and a beautiful young woman (Marion Cotillard’s Stephanie), who we learn has no problem taking swings at men who annoy her. It seems she has a higher appreciation for other dominant male species. Specifically, orca killer whales, which she handles and trains at the Antibes’ marine land of Dolphin World. After the bar brawl, Ali drives her home, hoping to get invited inside. When he learns she’s unavailable, he leaves his number – just in case things change in the future.

And so they do. After an accident on the platform at Dolphin World, Stephanie is inadvertently pitched into the water and, amid all the debris, blood and confusion, she becomes victim to an orca attack that results in the loss of both of her legs from the knee down.

The movie volleys between the two characters: Stephanie, going through bouts of depression, suicide attempts and rage, and Ali, unaccustomed to raising a child, taking on shady side jobs in order to survive, all the while living under the judgmental eye of his sister. The characters bump into each other, spend time together, and then go back to confronting their difficult lives. Their relationship grows slowly, in fits and starts, framed in a refreshingly realistic scenario.

While Rust and Bone is a redemptive love story between two broken people, its beauty is in its lack of overblown sentimentality. There is a spare, hard mien to these characters: To Stephanie, who doesn’t have all that much use for people, reserving her deepest wells of feeling for the orcas; and to Ali, preferring to bed down with strangers, sidestepping any possibility of a relationship. After her accident, Stephanie rejects prior lovers who are unable to mask their over-anxious solicitude. Ali is incapable of doing so; rather, he accepts her for who she is, as she is. The first time he persuades her to go outside, he suggests that they take a swim in the sea together. When she refuses, shocked at his callousness, he dives in without her. It’s this kind of casual disinterest from Ali that not only fascinates her, it shakes her out of her self-pity. Suddenly, she’s involved in trying to tame a whole new kind of wild beast.

Cotillard gives us a character that we’ve never seen from her before, the actress’ usual fragility covered under layers of spit-in-your-eye grit. But when she finds her way back home to forgiveness, back to the orcas she loves, it is as heartbreaking and moving as any scene in the movie houses this year.

The Audiard/Bidegain script is exceptional, particularly in its treatment of Ali. The character may be a womanizing jerk, but he possesses a spark of something much deeper inside; something that Stephanie can somehow intuit. The filmmakers and Schoenaerts walk a delicate line, sketching Ali convincingly enough so that when a sea change occurs, it is believable.

Between the film’s underwater sequences hewing to the artistically abstract, its superb performances and a script rife with surprise turns of sensitivity, Rust and Bone carries a resonance that is unforgettable.
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Rating on a scale of 5 exercises in water resistance: 4.5

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