Rust and Bone – A beautifully dark and dysfunctional story of love and the drive to live.
Quite literally a tale of blood, sweat, and tears, Rust and Bone takes your heart, yanks on its strings, chucks a fistful of dirt in its face, caresses it, seduces it, puts it in a headlock, and dares it to fall in love. Sex and violence feature in abundance, though by transcending the expectations of mainstream cinema intellectually they are necessary, intrinsic, vital; the physical agonies both imposed upon and sought by its characters are the very lifeblood of the film that drive its emotional essence, making it one you must see.
Written and directed by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), Rust and Bone is an intense and touching story of deliverance from a broken body and mind through frustrated and frustrating love. The film is a rare mix of emotional simplicity and complexity made possible only by the depth and humanity of performance delivered by its two lead actors.
Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) is Stéphanie, an elite killer whale trainer and aqua-show choreographer. Her subtle, emotional and inspiring performance delivers chapters of prose in mere seconds with the slightest of looks and smiles that emote aching lows and soaring highs. Opposite her, Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) portrays nightclub bouncer and illegal street fighter Alain ‘Ali’ van Versch. He gives a masterclass of simplistic complexity that is wonderfully conveyed, making the strange experience of hating him and loving him from the cinema seat a troublesome but intriguing one. The audience will gasp, murmur, and shift in their seats at the uncomfortable moments he delivers, yet ultimately will dig deep for the man that he creates.
Stéphanie suffers tragedy during a live performance at her aqua park in the south of France, losing both legs above the knee – her world is literally brought crashing down around her. From the very pits of despair she calls Ali, an acquaintance made the night before her accident, meeting after a fight outside the club at which he works. This call unknowingly sets in motion her journey toward recovery.
Ali’s blasé attitude toward her lack of legs lifts and inspires her to accept and embrace life, allowing her to regain her confidence, control, identity, and femininity. His lack of emotional vocabulary and apparent lack of care for anyone close to him is at times upsetting, scary, and amusing; his capability of both tenderness and violence are jarring.
Their bond grows. Stéphanie eventually meets his sister, with whom he lives, and his son. She enters the dark world of illegal street-fighting as Ali’s handler, a previously unimaginable scenario for the gracious performer. However, despite their seeming closeness, his indifference toward forming a normal relationship persists. Following a domestic dispute between Ali and his sister, he runs away to join a professional kick-boxing training camp, with apparently scant regard for the people he leaves behind.
Rust and Bone is trailed and billed as Stephanie’s tale, which reflects Cotillard’s Academy Award-winning star status, but in the end it is as much – perhaps more – a story of Ali’s deliverance from being broken.