DIR: Jacques Audiard • WRI: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain • PRO: Jacques Audiard, Martine Cassinelli • DOP: Stéphane Fontaine • ED: Juliette Welfling • DES: Michel Barthélémy • CAST: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Céline Sallette
The plot of Rust and Bone – the latest film from A Prophet director Jacques Audiard – must have sounded absolutely ridiculous on paper. Orca whale attacks, bare-knuckle boxing tournaments, illegal surveillance rings, a severely disfigured protagonist… and that’s just the first half. There’s no denying that the execution can sometimes be contrived and silly too. And yet… Rust and Bone enthusiastically embraces its eccentric ideas and emerges as an involving, distinctive melodrama.
Matthias Schoenaerts plays Alain, who has moved into his sister’s house to get his young son away from his troubled mother. After procuring a job as a bouncer at a nightclub, Alain rescues Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) from a group of aggressive admirers. While dropping her home, Alain discovers that Stéphanie thrives on male attention in order to make her partner jealous. Still, the two exchange phone numbers and that seems like the end of it… until marine mammal trainer Stéphanie suffers a terrible whale-related accident at work. It’s several months after the accident that, in the midst of a debilitating depression, she decides to call Alain. The two commence a very unusual friendship.
A lot of Rust and Bone’s effectiveness is due to the stellar work by the two leads. Cotillard is the real deal, a genuine movie star – radiant and extraordinarily talented. Here, she turns in a hypnotically emotive and complex performance. Stéphanie is stuck in a situation where her whole personal and professional lifestyles have been cruelly ripped away. Luckily Audiard and Cotillard manage to quickly develop the character beyond the self-pity that initially seems doomed to define her. Schoenaerts, meanwhile, plays a protagonist who is convincingly allergic to commitment in all its forms. His journey to maturity is an often frustrating albeit ultimately rewarding one. Both roles are physically and emotionally demanding in very different ways, and the odd chemistry between the two make the inevitable romantic developments compelling.
The script adds a lot of complications to differentiate what is, in essence, an old-fashioned romance from the crowd. It’s certainly different, for better or worse – two lost souls bonding over illegal fighting tournaments leads to some absurd moments, and some third act dramatics are contrivances too far. Still, the bizarre set-ups gel surprisingly well with the understated, poetic romance and character arcs. The direction and cinematography are consistently strong – the film is rich with visual symbolism and Audiard is fully aware of the cinematic power of quiet contemplation. Given the film’s themes and dreamy presentation, comparisons to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are not unwarranted, if not always favourable. A further stylistic flourish is a series of a peculiar yet effective music cues. I am no fan of Katy Perry’s Fireworks, but it soundtracks two of Rust and Bone’s most poignant and memorable sequences.
The strange tone and narrative of Rust and Bone might restrict its wider appeal – it’s hard to call if it will experience the same crossover success A Prophet enjoyed. It’s rough around the edges, certainly, but at its best Rust and Bone can be a truly intoxicating experience. The talented director and cast ensure what could have been a very silly film indeed evolves into something much more elegant.
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Rust and Bone is released on 2nd November 2012