Rust and Bone
's narrative reminded me of an old-school pulpy melodrama
from the 50's or 60's, the type of film where most of the narrative
momentum comes not so much from cause and effect, but from traumatic
stuff happening every ten minutes and changing the course of the plot.
At their best, these films are funny (both intentionally and
unintentionally), thrilling, and in the end, surprisingly moving. Max
' pulpy Hollywood work like Caught
and A Reckless Moment
to mind as perhaps some of the best examples of this type of
storytelling. It's almost the exact opposite of the finely crafted
narrative momentum in Jacques Audiard
's previous film, A Prophet
, which wouldn't be a problem,
except that Audiard directs with almost the exact same
self-serious gravity here, and as a result, the film never really
gains much energy, despite some great performances and some excellent
The core of the story involves an unusual relationship that blossoms
between two damaged characters. Marion Cotillard
plays Stephanie who,
while certainly not without emotional baggage, is much more afflicted
by damage in the physical sense of the word. That is, she lost both of
her legs in an accident involving whales at a Sea World-type park.
Meanwhile, Matthias Schoenaerts
, who is anything but
physically damaged, plays Ali, an emotionally distraught single father
trying to make ends meet. He's certainly been dealt a rough hand, but I
feel like words like damaged and distraught imply too much depth; he is, for the most part, an emotionally-retarded
But Audiard would clearly beg to differ, and the entire film is
directed in a way that relentlessly romanticizes both characters'
suffering, practically using every image to scream at the audience about
how grave it all is. Indeed, the things that happen are serious (sometimes absurdly so), but while the narrative
suggests a rollercoaster of extreme highs and lows, Audiard directs with
his usual mix of arty, emotional realism, and it flat lines the mood of
the film. With tight narratives like A Prophet
, this style worked
perfectly, but here, it almost feels like he's embarrassed by the
material, demanding that we stay grounded and sensible about, for example, a life-changing injury involving killer whales.
The film basically deals with the relationship and romance between
the two characters as life refuses again and again to cut them any sort
of break. Mathias desperately tries to make money to support his son,
turning to illegal activity and even street fighting, at which he excels.
During the street fighting scenes, Audiard feels more at home,
immersing us in the brutal underworld with blunt force, but refusing to
ever judge it morally, even to the point of borderline glamorization.
The film remains totally watchable thanks to the performances.
Cotillard goes for grit, forgoing makeup (as well as legs) for most
of the movie. And while she's not given as broad of an emotional
spectrum, she creates a genuinely strong, yet vulnerable character In fact, I wish that Audiard had focused the film on her rather than
Ali. That said, Schoenaerts is incredibly charismatic, and does a nice job
veering between quiet anxiety, charm and full-blown rage. He is indeed
playing a similar character to the one that he already nailed in
, but he gets to have more fun this time around.
There are moments of perfection, such as an intriguing, even
surprising montage where Cotillard toughens up and begins to get drawn
into the world of street fighting, but in the end, the film feels like a
whispy, uneven collection of such moments. It's tempting to blame the
somewhat loose, episodic storytelling, but I think that this wouldn't
have been as much of a problem if Audiard had pushed himself to
have a bit more fun with the melodramatic material. As it stands, for a
film about the most intense ups and downs in life, Rust and Bone