Posted by Ian Mantgani on 20th October, 2012
Telling the story of a security-guard-cum-bareknuckle-boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) who falls into a romance with an Orca whale trainer who has just lost her legs (Marillon Cottilard), Rust and Bone is a study of frustrated lives that takes melodramatic soap opera material and slows it down to a sober, intimate pitch. Director Jacques Audiard, hailed by some as the Great White Hope of European cinema after A Prophet and The Beat My Heart Skipped, likes to take pulpy material and realise it with sensitive performances and arty patience, and so it is here.
Scene by scene it is very intense. Cotillard is sensitively wounded as well as erotic (great pair of legs, but sexy even without them.) Schoenaerts is likeably dunderheaded. There are astonishing set pieces, such as the whale accident that leads to Cotillard’s amputation, and the return to the scene of this crime in which Cotillard’s determined dance to Katy Perry’s Firework makes the formerly decent pop song a bona fide iconic attachment to a soaring, emotional moment.
There is, though, something off about how the loose ends of the material fit with Audiard’s style. His filming is up-close and handheld, but leading and deliberate despite a documentarian pretence, with a precious widescreen canvas and precise control of light. This while the story has subplots picked up and left off at will, including one involving Schoenaerts’s kid that comes back for a manipulative bit of 11th-hour tension. Maybe the source material – a short story collection by Craig Davidson which I have not yet read – captured the messy, unpredictable, unresolved sense of life, but here it’s hard to square that up against the authorial control of the artifice, which somehow suggests there’s going to be a grander meaning or coming-together of themes. Rust and Bone is stunningly involving and emotional in its moments, but if you like intellectual synthesis you can feel it sieving through your brain and are left wondering what it all added up to, even if its relationships haunt. It may end up being one of those films that benefits from repeat viewings – not that it’ll come together better, but you’ll familiarly love it while being frustrated by its flaws, in much the same way as its characters feel about each other.