56th BFI London Film Festival Review – Rust and Bone (2012)

Rust and Bone (French: De rouille et d’os), 2012.

Directed by Jacques Audiard.
Starring Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero and Alex Martin.

SYNOPSIS:

A single father helps a whale trainer recover after a terrible accident that confines her to a wheelchair.

Jacque Audiard completely shook the foundations of the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 when A Prophet competed against Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. A Prophet won the Grand Prix whilst The White Ribbon took the Palme D’Or. This year, we are in a similar position whereby Audiard’s Rust and Bone is released the same year as Amour – Haneke’s latest film. Amour won the Palme D’Or whilst Rust and Bone left Cannes with nothing.

Rust and Bone, unlike the sprawling A Prophet, is a personal story centred around two characters – Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is violent, lacks effective parenting skills and ignores the expectations of the law and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an orca whale trainer who is a victim to a freak accident when a Marineland Orca Whale show goes wrong. Within the first thirty minutes, Stephanie loses her legs and incredible special effects win you round to accept Cotillard as an amputee. She swims and uses a wheelchair – shots are so natural and fluid, that you constantly ask yourself how Audiard and Cotillard managed to perfectly capture the reality of the situation she is in. If you didn’t believe she had lost her legs, the film would surely lose its credibility in the opening act.

Thankfully, it doesn’t. Both Schoenaerts and Cotillard deliver performances that are utterly convincing. The initial opening portrays Ali with his child, Sam (Armand Verdure), on a train eating the leftovers from other commuters. Is he a tramp? Is this a twisted, less-Apocalyptic version of The Road? Appearances are deceptive as both father and son have escaped to his sister’s home to provide a safe haven for the child, we are told. When we first see Stephanie, she has been assaulted in a club and Ali intervenes to protect her. The parallel between the Orca whales and Ali are immediate – Ali’s imposing and dominant figure, his soft-voice though alluring hides an aggressive edge that, when cornered, will attack. We see it first-hand as he assaults his own son.

Though stealing every scene she is in, Cotillard is not the centre of the story (though I wish she was) – it is about Ali. It is Ali who is strengthened by Stephanie – we see him in an illegal street-fight and, at the point whereby he is struggling to defeat his opponent, it is Stephanie who emerges and inspires him to rise-up and win. Stephanie’s personal struggle to cope with her disability is supported by Ali, but in turn, she supports him. She likes the attention and she craves his passing-desires – but he, in turn, sees her physical challenge as an impetus to succeed.

The Channel Four coverage of the Paralympics 2012 broke many boundaries as we became comfortable with disability – specifically the comedy-show The Last Leg, which managed to break down stereotypes and assumptions the general public may have towards those with a disability. Rust and Bone manages to highlight how limited that perspective truly is as Stephanie is clearly stronger than Ali. We see Stephanie build her life and re-establish who she is after an event which could force you to turn to suicide (Indeed she considers it). Ali, in the process of supporting her, ignores his own child and places himself ahead of his own Son time and time again; he directly affects his Sisters life too, only threatening her when confronted.

This is a film which manages to capture the arrogance of humans – whilst also showing the struggles people can overcome. Audiard has created a film that, through multiple watches, I’m sure will provide more scope and depth than it initially lets on – but on a first viewing, I can commend what it attempts and I would recommend viewing the film for Marion Cotillard’s performance alone.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Simon Columb

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