Rust and Bone is a melodrama, but this by no means should put you off seeing it. Yes, it does have a plot you would expect to find at three o’clock in the afternoon on Channel 5, but it’s handled in a way that makes it feel like something so much more. This is in part down to Marion Cotillard’s performance, but it’s a film that’s designed to linger long in the memory. Rust and Bone certainly achieves that.
There are many films that stay in the back of your mind for a while, but very few can do it with good reason. Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ collection of stories The Informers lingers a while after seeing it, but it’s also crammed with so much uncomfortable dreck it makes you want to take a shower. Rust and Bone doesn’t necessarily serve the role of a pleasant memory, but then again, that does seem to be the point. It wants to catch you off guard, and it wants to make you think for a long time after you leave the movie theatre.
When Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is put in charge of his young son, he decides to leave Belgium behind and head for Antibes. When he arrives there, he moves in with his sister and her husband, hoping to live as a family. When Ali gets a job as a night club bouncer, he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer. When Stephanie is involved in a horrific accident, Ali finds his bond grow deeper with her.
It’s quite likely that Marion Cotillard will earn an Oscar nomination for her performance, and rightly so. Many will even see her as a dark horse for the award. She looks to be in control throughout the film. A free spirit who is just able to pour herself gracefully into the role. Her performance is flawlessly natural, which is something we’ve seen a lot of recently. With this and The Dark Knight Rises, Cotillard has certainly had one of the best years of her career.
Cotillard of course doesn’t work alone. The scenes in which she sparkles the most usually involve her co-star Mathias Schoenaerts, with whom she has a rather uneasy chemistry. You can see there is tremendous affection between Ali and Stephanie, but they both have a very difficult time admitting it. Ali is a part time kick boxer struggling to find work and settle down. Stephanie is a whale trainer struggling to come to terms with her accident. It’s the briefest of moments when their paths cross, but they’re both desperate to cling onto that moment.
The director Jacques Audiard takes a much more hands off approach with the subject matter, which is quite different from his previous films. He wants to step back and allow Ali and Stephanie to figure things out for themselves. Having said that, he remains as critical as ever with the central relationship.
This is the main reason why Rust and Bone is such a triumph. Audiard is unsentimental in his handling of the story, and because of this it gives what should be a throwaway melodrama some genuine weight. But Audiard doesn’t sacrifice the intimacy of the story in order to pack an emotional punch. With the help of the stunning Marion Cotillard he finds a happy medium. Rust and Bone has to be one of the most intimate and genuinely human films of 2012.
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