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Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone

Released 2 November 2012
Director Jacques Audiard

Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Céline Sallette

Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain

Jacques Audiard, Martine Cassinelli, Pascal Caucheteux
Origin France, Belgium
Running Time 122 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 15A

A delicate beast.

Following A Prophet, which will most likely be regarded as one of the most important films of the last decade, Jacques Audiard had his work cut out for him. With the elegiac Rust and Bone, he again displays superior craftsmanship and sensational direction in a refreshingly unsentimental portrayal of two damaged characters attempting to fill their personal voids.

Telling the story of a chance encounter between an emotionally handicapped man and a physically handicapped woman, the film’s eschewal of overblown sentimentality is its strongest suit. Unemployed personification of machismo Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), recently put in charge of a young son he barely knows, moves to the south of France to live with his sister. He secures temporary employment as a nightclub bouncer and one night breaks up an altercation and helps to get the unbalanced young woman involved home. Trapped in a domineering relationship, Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) derives pleasure solely from training huge and powerful orca whales at a local sea park. When a horrific accident at work leaves her without legs, she finds herself completely alone, and turns to the one-time Samaritan.

The only thing these characters have in common is a shared sense of emptiness and mutual experience -two lost souls wading through the mire- and both actors excel in their opposing roles. Schoenaerts is superb as the poverty stricken, oft-selfish father who can only assert himself through rage and violence (which becomes useful when he gets involved with a seedy bareknuckle boxing gig). Ali’s lack of empathy and understanding becomes advantageous to Stéphanie, as he helps her to push herself beyond her limitations, emotionally, and later physically. A perfectly cast Cotillard is outstanding in the physically transformative role as an amputee and is a sure fire Oscar contender. She moves from lonely and depressed victim to strong-willed woman who refuses to be confined to a wheelchair and Ali begins to realise that she may offer him something more than he thinks he deserves.

While effectively serving as a study of two characters, the wonderful visual aesthetic of Rust and Bone is occasionally brought to the fore and most of the credit must be given to Audiard’s direction. However, the prosthetic work for Stéphanie is simply astounding; non-showy but utterly convincing. In a scene in which Ali carries her to the sea for her first swim post-amputation, Audiard perfectly captures her reclaimed freedom, using only cinematography and evocative imagery. During the accident scene, the immense whales are filmed in such a way that it becomes clear something terrible is about to happen, although what actually occurs is never made explicit. The scene is beautifully and boldly downplayed and he masterfully creates an ominous sense of dread, even though it’s soundtracked by one of Katy Perry’s synthetic pop hits.

While it may not leave the same lasting impression of A Prophet, Rust and Bone is a remarkably assured piece of work that showcases the talent of everyone involved.

- Cathal Prendergast