Rust and Bone is a moving tale of pain and love
‘Rust and Bone’ gets a bit long at times, but it has a set of highly impressive performances and intriguing characters at its core.
People can survive an awful lot. Broken bones, broken hearts. But there are some wounds that cannot heal, and some actions can never be forgiven. This is a movie about broken people.
In Rust and Bone (from director Jacques Audiard), unemployed young father Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) must suddenly look after his young son Sam (Armand Verdure), as they travel to southern France to live with Ali’s sister until he finds some work. Working temporarily as a bouncer at a nightclub, he helps out killer whale trainer Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) when she needs a ride home. Nothing too unusual until things change. Stéphanie has a terrible, life changing accident and loses limbs, while Ali begins working as an underground fighter to finally do something he’s good at. Passionate about. So she calls him, just to talk — at first. This is a film that strives on the slow, aching burn, building tension and relationships slowly, while at the same time throwing tiny, problematic dangers in the path to happiness. Ali wants to be a good father and provider, but he barely knows his own son and can’t deal with him. Stéphanie struggles to adjust to a life with the loss of limb, wondering if there’s anything worth living for. And then there’s the simple matter of respect, self and otherwise. Can she be in a relationship that’s purely casual?
Marion Cotillard has been receiving praise already for her work in this movie, which is understandable, as she’s playing a disabled person. When an actor can manage to portray a disabled person with honesty and depth, that’s always going to get attention (look at John Hawkes in The Sessions from earlier this year). As the physically damaged Stéphanie, Marion Cotillard not only pulls this off, she demonstrates multiples layers of emotion through facial expressions and body language. Matthias Schoenarts is not bad at all, he’s quite good, but Ali is as not as interesting a character, and his performance is not as nuanced. He doesn’t quite have that hulking physical presence the role demands, seeming more forlorn and worried, which is at odds with some of the writing. There are character transformations here, some of which you can buy more easily than others. When it takes an hour and a half to see real growth, I think it’s more than fair to call the movie slow. There are story threads that are ignored for long stretches of time, then suddenly come back to extreme, vital performance. So the pacing suffers sometimes. The relationships Ali has with his sister and son feel a bit … less at times.
Some moral ambiguities are interestingly addressed, then discarded, while others become plot drivers. Sometimes it seems like those subplots are just arbitrary ways to move the story forward. The movie is at its best when it is conflicted and difficult to watch, making you think, and wonder, and hope. Luckily, that’s how it is, more often than not. When the movie rewards you with themes and literal realization of metaphors, it’s almost surprisingly moving.