Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard (15) 120 mins
At first, the link drawing together amateur boxer Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and professional orca-trainer Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) appears tenuous. After a chance meeting at a local nightclub, Ali (part-time bouncer) rescues Stephanie from a violent brawl and the two are then reunited when the latter suffers an accident at work, leading to the loss of her legs. The moment Stephanie wakes up in hospital to find herself unable to walk is acted terrifically by Cotillard in a tragically piercing moment. Schoenaerts' heart-wrenching performance just shows the calibre of this film cast. However, it comes as no surprise that the film is based on two separate short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson; the slightly shaky interweaving of the independent plots leaves you feeling pushed to bridge the gap between them. This aside, however, the film is a magnificent portrayal of vulnerability and survival, earning its place in Jacques Audiard's growing repertoire of beautifully directed films.
Rust and Bone is no simple love story. It follows the quest for affection through the bitter struggle to cope with new burdens. Ali's aims to fight professionally jar with his responsibilities as a father; for Stephanie, her inability to walk begins a painful journey to find a new way of living. Schoenaerts' role in last year's acclaimed Bullhead by Belgian director Michael Roskam earned him worldwide acclaim. This year he comes back with a similar portrayal of innocence hidden somewhere within a hard shell of ruthless violence. Ali's gentleness and casual attitude towards sex and violence inspire a bitter-sweet tenderness towards him. Audiard's brutal and yet delicate treatment of the body illustrates what it means to be in control of one's desires, strengths and weaknesses; the body is pushed to its limits as the barriers between the human and animal blur with the struggle to survive.
The destruction of Marineland is a brilliant realisation of Audiard's use of colour, light and movement, producing a stark vision of desolation. He deftly plays with shadows and the silent power of the gaze, and his subjective camera-work succeeds in showing how disorientating life can be when viewed from a different perspective.
It is only the final scene that weakens the realism of the film. The sudden shift of scenery to snow-capped Alps and a final twist, although poignantly executed and capable of leaving you in tearful shock, recalls bizarre Bollywood-style jumps from bustling cities to empty deserts or even the final moments of a slapstick comedy - how many things can really go wrong? Audiard would have done better to avoid bringing in sub-plots that detract from, rather than enhance, the film.
Despite the rocky turns, this ride is definitely worth the money. Audiard succeeds in provoking a multitude of emotions in the most extraordinary places. The same can be said of Audiard's last success, A Prophet. Here, the violent brutality once again blends in well with the delicacy of love and rawness of passion that so well refers reality to fiction. Rust and Bone also marks one of the first times a woman takes centre-stage in an Audiard film, adding a softer edge to the paradox between loyal affection and brutal realism that finds its way into the fighting ground.
The soundtrack ranges from the B-52s to Katy Perry and Bon Iver, entwined with a stunning score by the award-winning Alexandre Desplat (The King's Speech). Desplat worked with Audiard for his two previous fims, A Prophet and The Beat that my Heart Skipped, both of which won multiple awards. It is clear from watching these films that there is no such thing as a typical Audiard work; his style differs from film to film, adapting to every experience of life he wishes us to encounter. Already winner of two Best Film awards and having been nominated for the Palme d'Or, Rust and Bone is set to be one of this year's favourites. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's The Untouchables was controversially picked over Audiard's masterpiece as France's entry for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards, but Marion Cotillard truly deserves the Best Actress gong for which she is nominated.