Film review: Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone
De rouille et d’os
Why Not Productions

STARRING Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts
WRITTEN BY Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, based on Craig Davidson’s collection of short stories “Rust and Bone”
PRODUCED BY Jacques Audiard, Martine Cassinelli, Pascal Caucheteux
DIRECTED BY Jacques Audiard

SHOT BY Stéphane Fontaine
EDITED BY Juliette Welfing
MUSIC BY Alexandre Desplat
DISTRIBUTED BY UGC Distribution, Sony Pictures Classics

Screened 2012-12-12


Jacques Audiard’s follow-up to 2009’s acclaimed Un prophèt is another Cannes Palme d’Or contender, his adaptation of Craig Davidson’s short story collection titled “Rust and Bone.” Matthias Schoenaerts (cast out of 200 potentials) plays Ali, a 30something now down in Antibes (southern France) and crashing on his sister’s couch while he works entry-level part-time gigs, ‘does’ whichever easy girl is around this week (and receives far too many phone calls while he ‘does’ them), and generally remains absorbed in TV kickboxing at the expense of his pre-teen son – but then Ali is quite the teen himself. While playing bouncer at a local club one evening Ali encounters Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) stumbling out, bloodied from her questionable involvement in a fight which had erupted – Stephanie, you see, is immediately characterized as One Tough Bitch. She’d have to be to endure the loss of her legs when a spooked orca collapses an enormous stage at Marineland, where she had worked as a trainer. Stephanie’s half of Rust and Bone details, expectedly, her crisis and recovery, and Ali’s half sees him take thoughtlessness to its extreme, indulge in petty racketeering, screw up with his child about as much as a father can, hit bottom and drag himself back to life – this in the film’s last five minutes and, yes, expectedly, as the only other possible trajectory for a man like Ali is that long, slow coast down Tragedy Lane.

Why the two ever become involved with one another is unclear and feels dismayingly arbitrary; Stephanie, in her post-op stupor, drunk dials Ali (who had escorted her home that evening at the club), and the two just start spending a great deal of time together: at the beach, in the bedroom, in the back-alley where Ali bare-knuckle kickboxes other up-and-coming young hooligans. What’s intriguing and a bit fun about Rust and Bone is watching Stephanie gain momentum in this new life of hers; there is one particularly fun cut from Stephanie staring into space as she gets a large industrial-brand tatt on an amputated leg, to that tatt displayed on her naked flesh as she rides her new client, Ali the back street kickboxer. But the problem with a Hakuna Matata narrative is that if everything feels arbitrary, well… yes, that’s right. You can see Rust and Bone, or not see it. What you’ll be missing are a lot of bad pop songs, Audiard’s dynamic, visceral direction (seen elsewhere in his work), Cotillard’s excellent portrayal of emotional bereavement and recovery, and some simply outstanding computer editing that removes the legs of Cotillard, a real-life biped. This CGI work is not exactly enough of a reason to see the film, but I was simply blown away by the craft of those techies – and I usually do everything I can to resist resorting to complimenting the graphic design at play in films, since it has speedily absorbed so much of the industry and has nothing to do with storytelling. Rust and Bone was nominated for two Golden Globes, but please do not let this dissuade from seeing it.

written by David Ashley