Based on Craig Davidson’s short story collection of the same name, Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os, 2012) is a tender, yet visceral piece about the nature of being human. Starring Marion Cotillard as young amputee Stéphanie, and Matthias Schoenaerts as troubled single father Ali, Audiard’s latest may boast incredibly moving performances, but never quite grants us the ability to truly get under the main protagonists’ skin. After returning orca trainer Stéphanie home following a nightclub brawl, burly bouncer Ali finds himself once again aiding the woman – four months after she suffers a terrible accident.
Although not initially dependent on him, Stéphanie’s urgent need to have life pumped back into her veins results in an unconventional relationship that sees Ali never quite grasping the emotional crutch he has become. Ironically, the man who saves her from another man’s fists turns to fighting to earn his keep, regretfully stealing time from the fascinating, slow nature of Stéphanie’s healing process.
All one-night stands and shoplifting, Schoenaerts’ single dad Ali is difficult to root for, especially when a very important final plot point is rushed through far too quickly to invoke any true pathos. The illicit affairs he gets into repeatedly damage and betray those he loves, and it is only his paradoxical caring of Stéphanie that gives him any remotely redeeming feature. Thankfully, Stéphanie’s disability is refreshingly embraced throughout, with her strong sexual identity no source of embarrassment during intimate scenes. Where dancing was once the foundation of liberation, Stéphanie’s old stomping ground is now a prison that results in a raw outburst of entrenched anger on an unsuspecting punter.
With Cotillard’s range at its most impressive during the heartbreaking reveal of her amputated legs, you never once question the authenticity of her newfound situation. Concentrating far more on emotional healing and progression than the road to physical recovery, time is spent living in the moment as opposed to wallowing in hospital, with a rapturous scene reliving her orca training to Katy Perry’s Firework guaranteeing you’ll never hear the song in the same way.
Stunningly shot by Stéphane Fontaine, water falling from the backs of orcas and slow motion shots of Ali’s blood and sweat during bare-knuckle fist fights may serve as a constant reminder that we are all animal, but it is the tear inducing shot of Stéphanie standing nose to nose with an orca that will serve to haunt long after the credits. Though not quite of the same calibre as Audiard’s previous outing, the superb A Prophet ( Un prophète, 2009), Rust and Bone remains watchable, well-acted neo-melodrama.