Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard, director and co-script w/Thomas Bidegain based on the book by Craig Davidson
Starring: Marion Cotillard (Stephanie), Matthias Schoenaerts (Ali), Armand Verdure (Sam), Corinne Saliette (Louise)
With director Audiard’s previous film A Prophet proving to be a huge international art house hit—it was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film, won the BAFTA (British Academy Awards) in the same category and garnered nine Cesars (French)—and star Marion Cotillard riding a wave of acclaim since her Oscar winning performance as Piaf in La vie en rose, Rust and Bone was eagerly anticipated at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Though it didn’t win, the film received an overwhelming majority of plaudits and has since gone on to win Best Film at the London’s BFI fest and three prizes at Spain’s prestigious Valladoid Festival.
Melodrama; art film; character study; people with disabilities; boxing
Stephanie (Cotillard) and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) are trouble. She’s a gorgeous whale handler at a marine tourist park. He’s a boxer, with a kid, Sam, and a bad attitude. They meet when Ali, working as a bouncer, breaks up a fight caused by Stephanie, who has been provoking two men at a nightclub.
They meet again when Stephanie calls him after she’s had a devastating accident in which she’s lost her legs from her knees down. That’s right. But don’t stop reading—or imagining that this film is a downer. It’s not and neither is Stephanie.
She and Ali strike up an unlikely friendship, fueled by Stephanie’s desire to be close to a man who won’t pity her. Besides spending time with Stephanie, Ali continues to work on menial jobs until he is persuaded to try being a kick boxer on the streets. It’s illegal work but it pays well—and Ali brings Stephanie to his first fight, which turns into a big success.
Stephanie gets braces for her legs allowing her to walk again. She and Ali become lovers. Stephanie gets to meet Sam and Ali’s sister Anna who is caring for the boy. The street fighting goes well for Ali and so do the other jobs he does.
But Ali’s casual indifference to Stephanie and the jobs he does cause their good life to unravel. One of Ali’s jobs—putting in hidden cameras to spy on staff in grocery stores and warehouses—causes Anna to lose her job. Soon, Ali disappears, having alienated Anna and Stephanie.
In a spectacular conclusion, Ali’s irresponsible behaviour almost causes Sam’s death. In saving the boy by literally smashing ice apart to rescue him from drowning in a frozen pond, Ali breaks through his own emotional reserves. He finally can allow himself to love Stephanie and Sam—and become a full human being.
Marion Cotillard is a brilliant actor, who has lately been placed in big budget American thrillers—Inception and The Dark Knight Rises—that have hardly tested her creative abilities. She seizes the part of Stephanie, a complex woman who has had her independence and sense of attractiveness taken away from her, and imbues her with dignity and strength and humour.
Her growing affection for Ali is effectively shown through Cotillard’s reactions to his often-cold behaviour towards her. At first, she’s amused but soon her exasperation begins to show until she finally explodes in a funny but brutal verbal confrontation with Ali. Cotillard offers a fine, beautifully etched performance.
Matthias Schoenaerts is a physical performer—an actor who is absolutely convincing as a fighter. Throughout most of the picture, he convincingly conveys the casual, almost animal-like indifference that Ali has towards everyone. His emotional change at the film’s end is well done: Schoenaerts gives off a sense of sincerity that is remarkable—especially in a European art film. He is surely an actor to watch in the coming years.
Jacques Audiard is a true auteur, one of the finest filmmakers in Europe. Rust and Bone, like A Prophet, is a melodrama that he fashions into a set of character studies. He clearly enjoys complex plots and odd digressions, which fits perfectly with his often deliberate pacing. Like a fine novelist, he relishes in the details of scenes, giving a sense of heightened reality in this film to the Marineland where Stephanie has her accident, the cluttered apartment where Sam lives with his aunt Anna and the nightclub where Ali and Stephanie meet. Thoroughly confident as a director, he gets wonderful performances from his actors and handles his mise-en-scene with mastery.
Though the subject of this film is a tough one, Rust and Bone is a must-see. And, just for good measure, there’s a Toronto tie-in: local boy Craig Davidson penned the stories that inspired Audiard’s film.
A tale of redemption and passion, Rust and Bone is genuinely inspired work that deserves to get awards in the coming months.