Sundance 2018 Review: RUST, An Intriguing, Split-Screen Portrait of Abuse

A squarely crafted cautionary tale about growing disconnect and blistering ignorance.

Contributing Writer; Manila, Philippines (@armanddc)
Sundance 2018 Review: RUST, An Intriguing, Split-Screen Portrait of Abuse
Aly Muritiba’s Ferrugem (lit. Rust) opens with a haunting shot of a gymnotiform. It rears its head out of the coral, eyes still-white, mouth plopping open and shut, and body coated in a corroded tint of yellow. “They say when it feels threatened,” an unknowing Tatiana (Tifanny Dopke) tells her brooding classmate and eventual fling, Renet (Giovanni de Lorenzi). “It can spark an electric charge that kills you instantly.” The opening scene finds her gazing longingly at the electric eel, a look she repeats when she looks at Renet. A cute-meet that’s both a beginning and an end.
On the film whirls into twin maelstroms, both inescapable to the respective people caught within them. Odd but intriguing, then, is Muritiba’s decision to splice his film into two parts. The first charts Tatiana’s descent to self-destruction when a racy, post-sex clip gets leaked online. She’s at a loss at who might have released the clip. There are only two copies: one with her ex-beau, Nando, and one in her phone, which, on the night of her encounter with Renet mysteriously gets lost. As nature dictates it---strictly as it dictates that an eel shock jolts with a fatal discharge---the clip becomes prime rib for a platoon of meme-famished high schoolers and Tatiana the subject of incredulous misogyny and abuse.
If there’s a sense that the film lodges buoyantly on Tatiana’s suffering, it’s because it is primarily Muritiba’s point. The film is almost unapologetically cautionary, inching to the fringes of becoming an after-school screening about bullying. But at its core, Rust is a split-screen portrait of abuse---how greatly it wounds someone who befalls it, and, if you’re lucky, how potentially deeper the cuts are lacerated on those who have perpetrated the abuse. 
Which brings us to Part Two, which abruptly cuts away from Tatiana’s perspective and fixes the story at a seaside resthouse. Here we find Renet, lodging for the meantime with his father, Daniel (Enrique Diaz), who also happens to be a biology teacher at their high school. The narrative whiplash is felt at this pivot, as Muritiba flicks the switch to a wholly different mood and perspective. Where the first part of the film trails Tatiana’s self-destructive path, the second part doggedly tails still moments of Renet’s everyday life as guilt, like rust, slowly creeps and eats away at him.
At their lodge, things are as about tense as you’d imagine: Renet’s teenage nephew, Normal (Pedro Inoue), in a gorgeously framed scene, taunts him about their complicity to the leak. This image is later echoed in a scene in which Renet, awash with guilt, decides to confide in his mother, Raquel (Clarissa Kiste). Such flourishes make the film less of a task to sit through. The lensing, courtesy of Rui Poças, who shot Lucrecia Martel’s magnificent film, Zama, works with stylized framings and a rich palette, echoing the enormity of the situation to both Tatiana and Renet, in spite of it seeming trivial from the outside.
Muritiba’s rather indulgent experiment in structure is intriguing at it's best, presenting a scenario in which neither side of an abusive act ever wins. It effectively decompresses the mystery of who-leaked-the-sex-tape and much of the drama of how a young woman’s misery drives herself to the irreversible extremes. But the black screen in-between Part One and Part Two is crucial---the pebble dropped in a still body of water, making the ripples unmistakably clear, divulging, magnified. In this sense, Rust is triumphant: a squarely crafted cautionary tale about growing disconnect and blistering ignorance. 
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