122 minutes (Selected)
Rust And Bone is, as its title suggests, a story of opposites, of contrasting qualities that have an elemental, physical aspect. French writer-director Jacques Audiard has adapted two stories from Canadian author Craig Davidson to create a work that's a striking mixture of grit and lyricism featuring two powerful performances and a kind of audacity in its tenderness.
Rust and Bone - Trailer
Put in charge of his young son, Alain leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Alain's bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.
There's a casual, downbeat feel to its post-credit opening, as Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) leaves his Belgian home town and travels to the Antibes with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure) to take refuge with his sister and look for work. Ali is tough and forceful, and clearly accustomed to hustling and scrounging; it's also evident that this is the first occasion that he has spent much time with his child.
He makes a fresh start, in his own way, with the help of his supportive sister (an effortlessly naturalistic performance from Corinne Masiero). As he searches for odd jobs, he gets caught up with Martial (Bouli Lanners) who offers him two kinds of work, both dodgy. The one that matters most to him involves bloody, bare-knuckle bouts, attended by crowds of onlookers and gamblers. There's something in the ferocity and the confrontation that seems to fulfil Ali, to give him a sense of meaning.
By chance, he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) at a nightclub: he is working there as a bouncer and comes to her aid when she is caught in a scuffle. Stephanie is an enigmatic figure: aloof, restless, elusive. What first intrigues Ali is her job training killer whales at a local marine park.
Audiard shows her at work with these huge, graceful creatures, who perform for the crowds to the sounds of Katy Perry. There's something both absurd and exhilarating about what Stephanie does and how it functions in relation to the film, and Cotillard gives this aspect of her identity a moving, credible specificity.
It's at work that Stephanie suffers a terrible accident early in the film. It's depicted with an almost dreamlike intensity, yet it's also shocking and plausible and its consequences are devastating.
In its aftermath, the film shifts. Stephanie's new vulnerability becomes a source of strength. And it turns out that Ali's casual indifference has something, paradoxically, to offer her. This isn't an obvious redemptive narrative, however. There are risks and pitfalls along the way, both for the characters and the film, but Audiard takes on the reductive possibilities of sentimentality and moves beyond them.
The two actors give direct, committed performances. Cotillard is compelling as she explores the ways in which Stephanie's distant poise metamorphoses, becoming fiercer, intense and more assertive, while Schoenaerts has a ferocious energy that never seems assumed or contrived.
Audiard has always been interested in the nature of damage and the possibilities of transformation, as in films such as The Beat My Heart Skipped, Read My Lips and A Prophet. Here, he explores the course of Ali and Stephanie's relationship in an immersive, robust yet poetic way.
He makes strong use of elements and sensory details, of water and light, texture and the sound of breathing. Music is used deftly and imaginatively, and the sea becomes a significant part of the narrative.
A concluding monologue finds words for something visceral and tangible, and the first, fleeting pre-credit sequence takes on a new, haunting meaning.