”The story is unfocused and a tad meandering with no real climax -or ending – for that matter. The style is what we take away from it. The silences, the extreme close-ups, the effective special-effects, the amazingly lit cripple sex scenes, we all know none of this would fly in Hollywood and we are all the better for it.”
Rust and Bone, Movie Review
Jacques Audiard’s new film Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) is an overwrought melodrama where virtually nothing should work. The premise sounds like something out of a improv comedy class. The exception is, well, it’s a two hour long French film starring two of the best actors in the current international film scene. To say Oscar-winning French superstar Marion Cotillard and rising star Matthias Schoenaerts give impressive performances is an understatement.
The story really has to be seen to be believed. Adapted from two short stories (“Rust and Bone” and “Rocket Ride”) by Canadian author Craig Davidson to tell the heart-wretching story of Alain van Versch. Alain (AKA Ali) is a martial arts fighter who is also a single parent who has been put in charge raising his very young son, Sam (Armand Verdure), alone. He has moved to Antibes from Belgium to live with his employed sister while apparently on the run from something bad. There, he meets Orca trainer, Stephanie, at a nightclub he is able to find employment as a security guard at. Stephanie seems passionate about her profession and flirtatious, yet damaged and unsatisfied. Things only get worse when Stephanie is working a show at Marineland (a French version of Sea World) to the Katy Perry song, “Firework” (yes, you read that correctly) when the stage collapses. Stephanie awakes in the hospital to discover that the Orca had eaten her legs while she was floating unconsciously in the water.
Thus begins a long recovery period where Stephanie gets prosthetics and realizes that Ali is the only person she can trust to have an emotional recovery with. Stephanie also gets into Ali’s fighting world while she’s at it (it’s not like she’ll be training Orcas again anytime soon). The scene where Ali takes Stephanie to the beach so she can swim is pure Oscar demo reel material. I could practically see the “For Your Consideration” text superimposed on the bottom of the frame. And, yes, the Katy Perry song does make a dramatic reprisal somewhere along the way.
Naturally, the two begin an actual romantic relationship based on mutual need neither realized the other had. But, Ali has problems of his own. He is basically a big kid and has a good heart, but can never stay out of trouble. Watching him, you wonder what the child service laws are in France b/c Ali really should not be taking care of a child on his own. He simply cannot handle this responsibility due to his emotional and mental limitations. The climactic scene where his irresponsibility comes to the forefront was almost too much to bear, even though it seemed to distract from every storyline that came before it, instead of enhancing it.
Mr. Audiard’s work here has already been compared to Douglas Sirk due to the way he is constantly throws his characters into grim, exaggerated situations where extreme emotion seems to be the only of reacting to them. I would be willing to throw in Todd Haynes or even Pedro Almodovar as other comparisons. His direction includes using lots of handheld camerawork, silences, manipulative dream sequences, bleak surprises, and pop music to evoke emotions. It all gets a little over the top, almost histrionic in retrospect. The opening and closing white-out sequences pretty much spell all that out.
After his last internationally acclaimed film, 2009′s A Prophet, Mr. Audiard was not exactly classified as a woman’s director, but here he works miracles with the female actors, especially Miss Cotillard. Instead of asking her to play her role like a victim in a Lifetime movie, he has her play out her character’s layered emotions naturally. It is easy to see why Miss Cotillard is receiving so many award nominations, including SAG, Critics Choice, and Golden Globe. It is so nice to see how much better and more natural she performs when speaking French. I have not yet seen Beyond the Hills, the film that did win Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival where Rust and Bone premiered, but I am still surprised that she did not. Maybe it’s just b/c Beyond the Hills had two supposedly great female lead performances, instead of just one. Just the scene where Stephanie interacts with a mimicking Orca through glass alone is worthy of serious attention. It could’ve been a short film in and of itself. Miss Cotillard is a ravishing and subtle actor worthy of her international acclaim.
Not to be ignored, Mr. Schoenaerts matches Miss Cotillard’s authenticity. I had never heard of this actor until last year’s Oscar-nominated Belgian film, Bullhead, introduced him to the film world. He is extremely masculine, but shows extreme vulnerability at the same time. His technique is very natural and he transcends his material. His fighting work is also most impressive. He portrays Ali as more than a brute who gets lucky, but cannot handle what he is given. I’m glad they will be collaborating again soon in Guillaume Canet’s new film, Blood Ties. Their chemistry sends the film soaring when it should be crashing down in its tired melodrama. My only gripe is that his so-called redemption seems unearned and rings false through no fault of the actor.
The themes here are nothing new. Love brings redemption, love is life-affirming, Katy Perry songs heal the world. We’ve all been there before. The story is unfocused and a tad meandering with no real climax -or ending – for that matter. The style is what we take away from it. The silences, the extreme close-ups, the effective special-effects, the amazingly lit cripple sex scenes, we all know none of this would fly in Hollywood and we are all the better for it. While watching the film, I kept thinking about how awful a Hollywood version of this film would be. It’s the kind of film you could imagine getting ripped apart at a focus group screening in a shopping mall. They would change the ending, recast nearly everyone, speak English, have the Orca court-martialed, or maybe turn it into a Jaws type suspense film with Katy Perry music substituting for John William’s score (I really think that would do the trick). Maybe a marriage would happen somewhere along the way. Maybe they would have Stephanie’s legs magically grow back. Maybe I’d actually like to see this remake.
So, while the title never really registers emotionally and lets the characters off the hook a little too easily, Rust and Bone really works as a triumph of good acting and directing over questionable material…and ubiquitous pop songs (sorry, couldn’t resist).
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