Rust And Bone
On the surface Alain and Stéphanie make an unlikely couple. Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts – Black Book) has drifted into the city with his young son Sam in tow; out of work and money he picks up employment as a bouncer/security guard and sleeps in his (also financially pressured) sister Anna’s basement. A wary bond between the two siblings is established early when Anna’s partner queries her lack of affection for her brother because she doesn’t kiss him in greeting. Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard – La vie en rose, The Dark Knight Rises) on the other hand, seems well liked and is gainfully employed as a trainer and performer at a local marine park. The two meet when Stéphanie visits the club where Alain is bouncing and after she finds herself in trouble he gives her a lift home and leaves his number. They don’t reconnect again until after a life changing accident prompts Stéphanie to call this person she barely knows who at one time showed some interest. Alain’s self absorbed bluntness appears to be just the antidote* to Stéphanie’s bleak headspace and their ill-defined relationship takes them both to unexpected places.
Rust and Bone marks French auteur Jacques Audiard’s farthest departure yet from his crime genre beginnings, structuring an almost Dardennes style narrative beneath his own melodramatic and visually engaged story telling style. Where Audiard’s previous effort A Prophet explored the decisions and coping mechanisms of a young man in the unfamiliar confines of a state prison Rust and Bone applies similar thematic explorations to the context of an unlikely pair who come together in the wake of an unfortunate accident. The strange plotting and idiosyncratic tonal shifts kept me guessing and completely drawn into these at once thoroughly normal and gloriously messed up characters.
By no means an introspective art-house slog Rust and Bone almost seems a run of the mill Hollywood style romantic drama (take your pick of Meg Ryan movies) except that every facet of Audiard’s production has a perceptible oddness to it which keeps it fresh and full of intrigue. The two leads appear to travel their character arcs in inverse extremes: Stéphanie near the beginning of the film, Alain close to the end. Though you could argue that in essentials they do not adjust much at all. Visually Audiard and regular cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine chop and change between handheld and fixed camera styles then randomly stitch in unexpected shot choices with contrasting tonal messages. For example: in the introductory scenes there is a handheld tracking shot but instead of the usual over the shoulder follow shot the camera artistically moves backwards from in front of the characters, framing only the legs of Alain and Sam creating a visual cadence which runs into the film proper. Later there are a series of shots of naturally beautiful locations such as the marine park and the beachfront which are lit and composed with an unglamorous, almost documentary, aesthetic touch. Then out of nowhere, moving into the final act, the filmmakers break out a ‘high impact’ shot from a camera mounted on the side of a truck in what amounts to a transitional scene. Mostly these decisions do not seem forced or distracting but rather add to the film’s expansive palette.
Another nice wee touch is Audiard’s foreshadowing of two significant moments – one for each protagonist – in the very opening sequence. These two shots contrast in several ways and, in retrospect, set up both the relational and visual dialectics of the film. The first is a visually messy and very kinetic shot of bubbles churning in water, the second the slow even breathing from a child’s otherwise still form. This prescience harks back to the ‘prophetic’ moments experienced by Malik in A Prophet; another layer of Audiard’s authorial style, abutting the mundane against the mystical.
Musically Rust and Bone indulges the same level of melodrama as the narrative with regular accomplice Alexandre Desplat providing the score (who also seems to have scored half the Oscar nominated films for 2013!) Bon Ivor features at least twice in suitably emotive moments and the film also makes unabashed use of both Swedish poplet Lykke Li and Katy Perry injecting both life and kitsch at vital moments.
I’m in two minds about the ending which embraces with gay abandon the melodramatic extremes threatened throughout indulging a nicely tied up Hollywood feel, reminiscent (albeit to a slightly lesser degree) of Herzog’s flag-waving scene at the end of Rescue Dawn. Despite this and a few uneasy moments in its own skin Rust and Bone delivers inventive and invested filmmaking as it spins out its intriguing yarn.
*Oddly this made me think of a scene from John Cornell’s determinedly not good 1990 Paul Hogan dramedy vehicle Almost an Angel in which Hogan’s character Terry illustrates his unaffected egalitarian treatment of an angsty wheelchair bound man by calling his bluff and fighting him whilst remaining seated to, you know, even things out, thereby allowing Steve to, ah, regain his self-respect through this, um, beating.
Release date: Thu, 28 Mar 2013
Duration: 120 mins
Genre: Drama, Romance, World Cinema
Language: French with English subtitles
Director: Jacques Audiard (2012)
With: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Céline Sallette, Corinne Masiero, & Bouli Lanners.
Country: France | Belgium
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell