Monday, July 29, 2013

Rust and Bone

Directed by Jacques Audiard.
2012. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Matthias Schoenaerts
Armand Verdure
Corinne Masiero
Bouli Lanners
Jean-Michel Correia
Mourad Frarema
Yannick Choirat

We first meet Ali (Schoenaerts) while he’s traveling to his sister’s house with his five year old son Sam (Verdure) in tow. We quickly realize he’s a hard luck case. Sis is none too pleased to see him, but takes the pair in for Sam’s sake. Soon, he gets a job as a bouncer at a nightclub. While working one night, he meets Stephanie (Cotillard) when he comes to her rescue, even drives her home, after she has a run-in with some jerk. Nothing more happens as she has a boyfriend. The two go their separate ways: Ali back to bouncing, Stephanie back to her job training killer whales at Marine Land. Unfortunately, an out-of-control whale causes all sorts of damage. Stephanie wakes up in the hospital only to discover that both of her legs have been amputated just above the knee. A few months pass, and feeling lonely because her boyfriend has disappeared, she gives Ali a call. From there, the two begin sort of a one-sided romance. It’s not because she’s lost her legs. It’s that Ali is a tough one to pin down.

As with many other movies of its ilk, Rust and Bone is only as good as the chemistry between, and performances by, its two leads. Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard make a believable pair. As simple and off-handed as it sounds, that’s a compliment of the highest order. Schoenaerts’ Ali displays a perfectly cavalier attitude about everything, including his son. This would seem an impediment to true romance because the other person probably wants to be taken seriously. In fact, it is. However, it also enables him look past her condition and treat it as a mere fact of life and not something he has to talk about while obsessing over the difficulties it may cause. Sure, it’s a topic of conversation, but not the deciding factor in how much, or little, he values her as a person.

Early on, Stephanie is simply grateful for Ali’s kindness. As the movie persists, she begins to feel like a real woman again. She remembers how to assert herself, perhaps even better than she did before. She learns to enjoy life, escaping the bottomless abyss of self-pity with a helping hand from Ali. Through her initial leaning on him, she learns independence. Each actor portrays their half of the relationship as genuinely as possible. We fully get why things develop as they do.

Subplots are handled solidly, for the most part. Ali’s ever-changing job status informs whatever it is he has with Stephanie. Chief among his string of occupations is the most illegal one. He soon starts fighting on the streets for money. Strangely, this is the setting in which the two grow closest. As far as his son is concerned we see time and again how much of a struggle it is for him to take care of Sam. Though Sam is clearly a plot device more than anything, a cog in the machine of a love story, he’s still an intriguing part of our tale.

The one thing I take umbridge with is Stephanie’s rehab. Essentially, this is a movie about a woman overcoming serious obstacles to reclaim her sense of self-worth. Dealing with her new physicality is part of this. We see the shame she feels when out in public, or even in private when doing things supposedly “normal” people don’t have to do. Eventually, we see her gain some sort of confidence thanks, in no small part, to a set of prosthetic legs. What we don’t see is any part of the process that doesn’t deal with Ali. It’s understandable that the filmmakers didn’t want to take too much time away from the couple in question, but it feels too easy. One moment, she’s being shown the prosthetics for the very first time. The next, she’s walking around on them amidst a throng of strangers with no qualms about jostling her as if she’s been doing it for years.

Perhaps, I’m being lazy, asking for too many things to be spelled out for me. With that in mind, I have to say that Rust and Bone is still a very enjoyable, if clichéd love story. Aside from our heroine losing her legs, there’s not much here that marks this as a unique movie experience. However, our two stars turn in excellent work. We believe in their relationship and ride the roller coaster with them.

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