The Review: If you’ve never seen a Jacques Audiard film before, then you should come to this with the right expectations: that what you’re going to get will be a little unconventional, to say the least. Take his last three films: Read My Lips, involving the pairing off of an almost deaf woman with an ex-convict, or The Beat My Heart Skipped, the story of a shady real estate broker with aspirations to be a pianist. Audiard’s last film, A Prophet, was less concerned with romantic aspirations but still took a hard-boiled prison drama and wove supernatural elements inextricably within it. So if you’re coming to Rust and Bone completely cold, you should be aware that Audiard’s films are anything but simple.
It will be no surprise in that context that Rust And Bone sees a return to romance, but also that it’s not your average boy meets girl. In this case the boy is a big hulk of a man, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) who’s trying to find the means to raise the young son he’s been saddled with looking after, but it’s difficult when responsibility doesn’t come easy to him. Through one of his many attempts at respectable work as a nightclub bouncer, he has a chance encounter with Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), whose hotheadedness gets her in trouble at the club before Ali intervenes. A begrudging act of kindness on her part later becomes more crucial when she suffers an unfortunate and potentially devastating accident; through that, this odd couple start to become friends, but form a complex relationship which both of them struggle to truly come to terms with.
Audiard is no stranger to powerful male figures in his films (the last three have featured Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris and Tahar Rahim, for example), and Matthias Schoenaerts seems to have been hewn almost from solid granite, such is his imposing physical presence. But the real strength comes from the performance of Marion Cotillard, now no stranger to English speaking audiences for her work with the likes of Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan. Most reviews are giving away the nature of what happens to her character, and given that she’s a killer whale trainer it’s maybe not hard to surmise, but I’ll leave that for you to find out on screen if by some miracle you don’t already know; either way, the pain of self-discovery is powerfully captured by Cotillard, but that’s only the start of an excellent performance that sees her take a surprising, but always believable, journey through that pain and towards some form of a normal life.
It’s fair to say that Audiard’s film isn’t necessarily concerned primarily with the difficulties of dealing with disability. There’s an awful lot more going on here, from Ali’s street fighting career to his stewardship of his son to the nature of his relationship with Stephanie to the issues of socialism and family brought up by some of the divisions between management and employees where Ali also works. With so much happening, not every plot line gets the time it needs (Ali’s son suffering most from this) and also not every plot feels that it’s earned its time in the mix. Whenever Cotillard’s on screen, Rust And Bone captures and keeps your attention, but when she’s not, it has to work a little harder, and while it’s not a constantly captivating film when it’s at its best, it soars. But it’s fascinating to see what can be done with modern special effects, no longer purely the domain simply of big Hollywood productions, and for the most part Audiard has produced another compelling story of human relationships with a twist to stand shoulder to shoulder with his earlier works.
Why see it at the cinema: Audiard knows how to use the frame, and there’s at least a couple of moments that pack a much bigger punch for being seen in a cinema for their emotional wallop.
The Score: 8/10