Rust and Bone (2012)

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The last movie from French director Jacques Audiard’s was the rather magnificent A Prophet, a vicious and unflinching tale of life in a French prison. It was a visceral and powerful movie which was brutally realistic in its portrayal of violence and survival.  With Rust and Bone, he once again harnesses this intense realism but channels it into an all the more passionate and romantic story that is nevertheless every bit as unflinching as his previous work.

Rust and Bone stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali, a brooding hulk of a man who upon finding himself destitute, travels to the South of France with his son in order to stay with his sister. He earns a little money as a bouncer and then as a security guard but dreams of one day pursuing a professional kickboxing career. One night while working at the nightclub, he has a chance run in with Marion Cotillard’s Stephanie, a sultry and enigmatic woman who trains whales by day and at night has taken to frequenting clubs on her own. When Stephanie gets into a fight on the dancefloor and needs driving home, Ali duly obliges. After leaving her safely at home, he leaves her his number, and with that the two go their separate ways.

After a tragic accident at work leaves her without her legs, Stephanie becomes a shell of her former self and struggles to accept her new disability. Ali meanwhile is proving to be anything but responsible, often neglecting his son and relying ever more on his sister’s good nature. When Stephanie calls Ali out of the blue, the two strike up a friendship founded on his lack of condescension and willingness to help her readjust. He takes her swimming for the first time and proves an overwhelming positive influence on her life. The two slowly grow closer and closer, and after finally sleeping together, it appears that their relationship may move on to the next level. Ali’s selfish nature seems set to hamper such a development though and as he becomes increasingly unreliable. Both Ali and Stephanie find their lives bettered by the other but it is unclear whether Ali’s bull-headed machismo will ultimately get in the way of a happy future.

The two leads are absolutely magnificent throughout. Schoenaerts is full of barely contained rage, angry at life and his perceived inability to catch a break. While it would be easy to simply portray Ali as a brainless thug, he instead injects a warmth and genuine emotional heft to the character who for all his flaws, loves his son and Stephanie deeply and ultimately wants only what is best for them all. Cotillard, as we already know, is an extremely gifted actress and the scene where she first wakes up and finds out about her disability and releases a primal wail of anguish is hauntingly well acted. Her progress from a fragile and broken woman to a strong and confident one is then captured perfectly.

The film itself could easily have slipped into sentimental melodrama. Overcoming a tragic, life-altering disability and a pained romance between two very different people is the type of subject matter that could easily have lent itself to a schmaltzy and generic romantic drama. Thanks to Audiard’s direction and the strength of his two leads however, what we get is a powerful and affecting drama that feels incredibly real and genuine.

There are several major emotional wallops throughout the movie, the obvious one which happens early on in the movie and which I have already alluded to is just one of several key moments which drives these two people together. To mention any of the others would give far too much away, but needless to say events rarely go as planned and Ali’s reckless attitude increasingly proves a very real danger to those around him.

Audiard’s movie touches on many themes, the male penchant for violence, an inability to accept responsibility and triumph over adversity. At its heart however it is a story of love and of a bruised couple who in spite of themselves are perfect for one another and bring out the best in the other person. At times devastatingly powerful and others heartfelt and tender, Rust and Bone is a moving drama that will linger long in the memory.

Rust and Bone is out on DVD and blu-ray on 25th February 2013.

Director: Jacques Audiard
Stars: Matthias Schoenaerts, Marion Cotillard, Armand Verdure, Corinne Masiero, Bouli Lanners
Running time: 120min
Country: France/Belgium

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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