Dir: Jacques Audiard
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Corinne Masiero and Armand Verdure
Jacques Audiard is arguably the most exciting film-maker working in the French film industry today. His consistently impressive output includes Read My lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Oscar-nominated A Prophet. Whilst his films are pretty eclectic, they all contain a dark sense of humour, powerful central characters and bleak determination. Rust and Bone is no exception.
When Ali (Schoenaerts) and his son Sam (Verdure) take refuge at his sister Anna’s (Masiero) house, events are set into motion which will change all their lives forever. Whilst working as bouncer, Ali meets Stephanie (Cotillard), a beautiful and aloof whale trainer. When an accident at work leads to the loss of her legs, her relationship with Ali enters a new dimension. Whilst Stephanie strives to accept her handicap, Ali tries to get his life back on track and re-ignite a career in boxing, all the time struggling to face up to his fatherly responsibilities.
Rust and Bone is a powerful and uncompromising film with two central characters that are defined by their physicality. When tragedy strikes, Stephanie finds this stripped-away from her and has to struggle to re-align her sense of purpose. Ali seeks solace through the brute force of bare-knuckle fighting, using it as a vent for his lack of emotional expression. Both suffer from an inability to emotionally engage: Ali the fighter, quick to violence and brutality but scared of the responsibility of bringing up his son; Stephanie the arrogant beauty who has the inability to allow herself to love someone. Although brought together by chance, they slowly learn and evolve together; breaking the chains which bind them.
Audiard’s film is tactile, brutal and uncompromising; you can almost taste the blood and sweat as it permeates from the screen. Rust and Bone is a rough diamond which takes no prisoners and pulls no punches. Ali and Stephanie are seriously flawed characters with little to endear them to the audience. However, as the film progresses, their true nature begins to seep out; despite all their failings you find yourself identifying and empathising with their plight. The cinematography cleverly contrasts a stark sense of their entrapment with the liberation find in fighting, swimming and sex.
Much of the talk surrounding this film will centre on the performance of Cotillard, and whilst she is indeed excellent, I feel Schoenaerts kinetic portrayal of Ali drives the film forwards. In a similar way to Stephanie having to overcome her handicap, Ali has to face-up to the injury that thwarted his boxing career; literally fighting through the pain barrier. He is a fiery ball of anger and rage; simmering inside but threatening to boil over at any moment.
Rust and Bone is a gritty, powerful work from a director who is building a reputation of tempering stark brutality with tender kisses.
For full screening times visit http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/rustandbone