Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Rust and Bone (***)
Directed by Jacques Audiard
The gulf between the roles that Marion Cotillard plays in her commercial American films and the ones in her native language seems large enough the fit a cruise through. Consider the ferocity of her Oscar-winning performance in La Vie en Rose and try to think if she's ever even done anything that commanding and demonstrative on an American screen. Perhaps it's not a fair comparison, because there are few actors who are ever as good/better in there second language (Javier Bardem?) - and she did come close in one particular scene in Nine, but that movie was an absolute garbage apart from that one glowing moment. Rust and Bone - part gritty love story, part redemption tale - gives Cotillard her first role with real meat since her pre-Oscar career.
The film actually centers on Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts, from the Oscar-nominated Bullhead) an unemployed, irresponsible father who brings his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure) from Brussels to France to live with his sister and start over. Where's Sam's mother? What are Alain and Sam getting away from? We never really learn, but as we watch the developments throughout the film, it's easy to suppose that it must not be good. Alain gets a job as a bouncer at a club and on his very first night, he's breaking up an altercation between a violently angry man and a bloody-nosed woman named Stephanie (Cotillard). Dressed provocatively and sporting a surly tongue, Alain drives Stephanie home where he gives her his number, you know, just in case.
We learn that Stephanie is an Orca whale trainer at Marineland, participating in amusement park events in front of crowds of hundreds of people. An expert at her job, it's not enough to prevent a horrible accident that leads to the loss of both of Stephanie's legs. Deformed and morose, Stephanie cannot think of anything to console her sorrow than to call Alain for a visit. Alain is surprisingly cavalier about Stephanie's accident, treating her such little relevance to her accident that it makes him instantly endearing to her. He even casually asks her if she'd like to have sex, as if he was asking her if she'd like a glass of milk before bed. Their relationship, while unorthodox, grows from a supportive friendship to a relationship with real trust and vulnerability - leaving the two uncertain about the future for them and their families.
There are several other subplots that clutter the film's two hours, including Alain's aspiring back door fighting career and his relationship with a skeevy security man that also works at his job. But the film's best moments come from Alain's relationship with Sam and Stephanie. Directed by A Prophet filmmaker, Jacques Audiard, the story is shot in intimate handheld close-ups and jump cuts, presenting Alain's maturation process in a fierce, occasionally ugly way that seems to fit very well. The film does not coat Stephanie's tragedy in any sentiment, but instead forces the audience to experience her new reality in stark detail. It's almost as if Alain's flippant reaction to Stephanie's loss mirrors the film's indelicate dealing with it, giving the film such a compelling, articulate nature that's hard not to become infatuated.
Schoenaerts, playing the role without emotion, simply going from woman to woman, fight to fight, job to job, with seeming little care for Sam and just enough care for Stephanie that he can sleep with her on a daily basis, while also picking up a woman at a club right in front of her. It's pretty brave, when you think about it, since Schoenaerts could have definitely played the role for more sympathy and supplied a lot more fireworks (to quote a Katy Perry song that is puzzlingly used several times in this film), but he instead makes Alain a man with several responsibilities, but not a care in the world. He's inherently good, especially considering the way he treats Stephanie in her morose time and the time he spends with Sam in his better moments, but he seems to equate his love for Stephanie and Sam with the love of a fight or sex with a random woman at a club.
It isn't until the film's final act that we learn that the movie is about Alain's journey. As mentioned earlier, the film's film two-thirds are a bit cluttered with sub-plots sometimes involving labor laws and the politics behind backdoor fighting. As the film rounds more into view, I found myself enjoying it a bit more. And once the film hit it's conclusion, I was rightly satisfied with its screenplay and performances. But even in its more uneven moments, we're still equipped with great work by Schoenaerts and Cotillard that both showcase two different types of depression and isolation in ways that are effective and imminently watchable. I can see many getting frustrated with Rust and Bone's austerity and attention paid toward avoiding likability in its characters and sentimentality in its screenplay. But I feel like this is a good way to tell this story, cause its never fun to lose your legs.