Film review: Rust and Bone

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 March, 2013, 9:05am

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts
Director: Jacques Audiard
Category: III (French and English)

Considering that its director has said that its title refers to the mix of blood and splintered bone that one tastes upon being punched in the face, Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone actually is not as brutal as one might think it would be. And in view of what horrors befall this raw romantic drama's two main characters, it's much less of an emotional downer than one might expect.

One major reason for this is that the principal pair - who initially appear to have very little in common - turn out to possess a large amount of resilience as well as a painful vulnerability. It also helps that Audiard (working again with writer Thomas Bidegain, his collaborator on A Prophet) has opted for an uncommonly unpitying, matter-of-fact approach to the film's dramatic subject.

Killer whale trainer Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) and struggling single dad Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) meet after she gets into an altercation at a nightclub where he's working as a bouncer and he volunteers to get the bloodied Stephanie home safely. Their first impressions of each other are not great. Ali tells Stephanie she is dressed like a whore and she appears to look upon him as little more than a boorish hired heavy. Still, he decides to give her his phone number - for whenever she needs him - as there's no doubt he finds her sexually attractive.

When Stephanie finally reaches out and calls Ali, she's a very different woman - physically and psychologically. A work accident has left her without legs below the knee, and also considerably damaged her sense of self.

Perhaps initially just out of curiosity, Ali pays a visit to Stephanie's home. But he does her good by convincing her to venture out of her apartment to the beach - and even go for a swim in the sea.

The sight of Ali carrying Stephanie out into the water is one for the ages, and the following scene of Stephanie enjoying the time she spends in the water is heartwarming indeed. Of course, it's not all smooth sailing from then on. There are many more dramatic developments in the lives of these two people who find a surprising emotional depth in - and connection with - each other.

Aside from the special effects used to digitally remove Cotillard's limbs for a large part of the movie, the makers of Rust and Bone rely on classic film elements, such as a strong script and powerful acting, to tell the story of an unlikely romance between two people who life dealt various blows to.

This is a film that packs an all-round emotional punch, and also admirably makes cases for tenderness not being restricted to females and toughness to men.

Yvonne Teh

Rust and Bone opens today