Sunday, 11 November 2012

Review: Rust & Bone

Happy father's day! What better way to celebrate than to take a look at a recent film featuring, among other things, a man learning how to be a father? Jacques Audiard's latest film was screened as the Closing film of this year's Love & Anarchy - Helsinki International Film Festival. It is also on the programme of Pimedate ööde filmfestivaal - PÖFF, or the Tallinn International Film Festival, opening tomorrow.

So, as in many of the director's previous movies, Audiard's new protagonist is a man of few words, that is more used to violence than being a normal member of the society. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a man arriving to Paris to try to make a living supporting his 5-year-old son and staying at his sister's house. The man is struggling to get by, since he isn't too good working at normal jobs, but since he is imposingly large, he gets hired to be a bouncer at a night club.

One night at work he meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a whale trainer at the local dolphinarium, who also has a tempered violent side. When she gets kicked out of the club, Ali sees her safe back home to his boyfriend. Both sides have a small romantic crush on each other. Stéphanie's boyfriend, however, has had enough of her hard-drinking ways and leaves.

Trying not to spoil too much, but Ali and Stéphanie will eventually become even closer due to a horrific accident that cripples her for life. A major problem, however is that Ali isn't a very emotional individual, and sees no problem screwing around with every woman he encounters. All the while taking care of Stéphanie. The man will eventually learn to take part in brutal underground boxing matches to earn some better money.

For quite a long time, it seems that Audiard is attempting to build a portrait of a true sociopath who is incapable for any feelings whatsoever. Ali doesn't seem to care much for his son, and beats him up for misbehaving. While he connects with Stéphanie on a surface level, can't figure out her deeper feelings for him. But Audiard is a director capable of surprising the audience and by the end it becomes clear Ali does have his sensitive side.

The film's title refers to its themes of disfigurement, while Ali and Stéphanie both have serious personality defects that eventually cause harm to their bodies. He has the willpower and the physical strength, while she has the emotional, even spiritual side. Together they resemble more of a complete person, as evidenced by the scene where Ali takes her swimming by carrying her on his back. But the title may also refer to the emotional side, on how the film's themes may go way beyond of the surface level all the way to the core.

The film also contrasts the human tendency to tame nature and how it problematizes our way to behave. While Stéphanie's attempts to tame a killer whale are futile, she also grows to believe that taming a wild, uncontrollable muscle machine such as Ali is as impossible. But she won't give him, because of the hot, hot sex they're having. Thus she begins to communicate with him only through a very short acronym text message or through body language.

It is a very physical film, shot at times as naturally as to be almost like a nature documentary about the hard knock lives of these people. Audiard is as masterful in compressing everything that needs to be said in just a few sentences as Aki Kaurismäki. One also has to give due to the magnificent actors. Cotillard and Schoenaerts are at career-best form here, taking their abilities for emotional performances and imposing physicality (respectively) to whole new heights.

For those awaiting a clear love story, the film might be too distant, even cold. For those awaiting for the brutally violent boxing matches, they are quite sidelined and only featured in two bigger scenes. But for anyone looking for a good drama that makes one ponder about the human vunerability, and how it affects our own humanity, this is a bullseye.


France/Belgium, 2012

Language: French
Director: Jacques Audiard
Screenplay: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Craig Davidson
Cinamatography: Stéphane Fontaine
Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Céline Sallette, Corinne Masiero

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