Directed by: Jacques Audiard
Premise: A down-on-his-luck single father (Matthias Schoenaerts) begins a relationship with a woman (Marion Cotillard) who has recently lost her legs in an accident.
What Works: Rust and Bone is a story about the relationship between two damaged people. The first is Alain, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, a single father who lacks paternal instincts. He is a terrible father to his son, often neglecting him and pushing off his parental responsibilities onto others. Yet, as terrible as he is, the movie manages to make him a sympathetic character. Alain isn’t deliberately bad at parenting; he just does not possess those innate skills. He is a man whose talents are bound to his physicality and he takes a job as a bouncer and later finds success in underground fighting matches. Alain is a blunt instrument who finds purpose and joy in violence and physical labor and anything that requires more delicate skills is frustrating for him. The movie brings these qualities and personal limitations to bear in the story as Alain encounters challenges that he cannot solve through physical force. The other lead character of Rust and Bone is Stéphanie, a former killer whale trainer who loses her legs in a work-related accident. Like Alain, Stéphanie faces a physical challenge. Stéphanie’s career and standard of life are taken from her and she has to readjust to a new condition of normal. That adjustment has many challenges and one of the admirable qualities of Rust and Bone is the way it regards a character with a physical disability. The film is unsparing in its portrayal of the physical and emotional difficulties of a wheelchair-bound person and yet the filmmakers do not pity her. Stéphanie maintains her humanity and this is to the credit of director Jacques Audiard, screenwriters Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson, and especially actress Marion Cotillard, who gives a tremendous performance. Rust and Bone is a subtle movie with a lot going on beneath the surface. One of the more obvious aspects is the focus on human dignity but this film is also about the link between the body and the mind. In Rust and Bone, physicality is connected to who the characters are and changes to their bodies impacts their identities. Physicality also manifests itself sexually and Rust and Bone includes some of the more interesting portrayals of human sexuality in a motion picture in recent years. There aren’t many taboos left but this film includes sex scenes involving a physically disabled woman. The scenes are done with the same respect for her dignity as the rest of the movie and the lovemaking of Rust and Bone frequently affirms the body. Rust and Bone is also a a gorgeous movie, and whether it displays swimming, fist fights, or sexual intercourse, its scenes are consistently photographed beautifully.
What Doesn’t: Rust and Bone is a challenging movie, especially for mainstream American audiences. Hollywood has conditioned viewers to expect boiler plate stories in which easily likable characters are presented with conventional conflicts that come to closed resolutions. A picture like Rust and Bone demands much more from its viewers. The film’s characters are not easily or entirely likeable and they face challenges that don’t have easy solutions. There is an honesty in that complexity that elevates Rust and Bone beyond so many other movies but that complexity demands much more from viewers than the average picture. Whether audiences are willing to meet those demands will largely determine how they feel about the movie.
DVD extras: Commentary tracks (in French), featurettes, premiere footage, deleted scenes, trailer.
Bottom Line: Rust and Bone is a tough but sensitive story about sophisticated characters. This is a movie that warrants multiple viewings in order to take in the full depth of its themes and performances and although it may be beyond the radar if most moviegoers it is a film that deserves broad appreciation.
Episode: #450 (August 4, 2013)