When Rust And Bone premiered at Cannes, the very first reviews suggested this wouldn’t just be the movie to beat at the Film Festival, but would also be in with a chance at the Oscars. However it quickly lost momentum, losing out at Cannes and not even getting a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the Academy Awards. The reason it hasn’t done as well as those ecstatic early reviews suggested is that it’s a bit of an audience divider, with some feeling it’s an emotionally involving masterpiece while others can’t quite get past the implausibility of its melodrama.
Marion Cotillard plays killer whale trainer Stephanie, who meets bouncer Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) in a club. After Stephanie has a terrible accident and loses both of her legs, she forms an unlikely friendship with Ali. While she very slowly comes to terms with her situation, Ali isn’t initially the sort of person you’d expect to help. He’s a bit of a wanderer, isn’t a great parent to his young son, flits from job to job, has little care for most other people’s feelings and is quick to violence. However Stephanie responds to his lack of pity and his consideration, although while he helps her get over her accident, it’s less certain whether he’ll be able to give her what she really wants.
In the making of documentary, director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) talks about how he wanted to take two very different elements – Stephanie and Ali’s stories – and find a way to bring them together. It’s something the film only just about manages, as while it undoubtedly pulls you into Stephanie and Ali’s journey, it never really works out what draws these two people together. Indeed it’s a lack of reasoning that’s the film’s major flaw.
Quite a few of the plot developments seem rather random and arbitrary, with some of the more melodramatic elements coming in from complete left field. Jacques Audiard is quite good at weaving it all together, but it really will divide audiences into those willing to go along with the rather manipulative narrative and those who won’t. There are a couple of moments in particular that will have a lot of people wrinkling their brow in incredulity. Personally I didn’t mind most of it, even when it did feel rather random and like it was deliberately trying to ring the emotion out of you, although right at the end I really was on the edge of giving up.
There’s an event at the conclusion that sort of makes sense to the emotional journey of the movie, but is so calculated that it’s constantly in danger of throwing you out of the film. However if it doesn’t bother you it’s likely to really pack an emotional wallop, as it’s a powerful ending even if it’s pretty calculated.
In most people’s hands the whole thing would have felt contrived and occasionally silly, but Audiard is undoubtedly a skilful weaver of tales, just about keeping it above water. He’s helped tremendously by Marion Cotillard, who is brilliant as Stephanie. She never allows you to pity her character to the point where she occasionally threatens to become unlikeable, but she is the powerful beating heart of the movie, keeping you anchored in with her complex journey.
Matthias Schoenaerts has a tougher job, as his character is rather flatter and only really shows any sign of change at the end. He does a good job of making you not hate him (which could have been a problem with a lesser actor), but doesn’t really have the room to play with his almost child-like character, who acts of compulsion and doesn’t realise the effect he has on those around them.
The film undoubtedly looks good, with Jacques Audiard having a particular affinity for magic hour (sunrise and sunset) that gives the film a distinctive feel. Coupled with some impressive special effects to convincingly remove Cotillard’s legs, it looks great, which really comes across on the Blu-ray.
There are also some good special features, most notably a lengthy and interesting ‘Making Of…’ Featurette, which looks at Audiard’s ideas behind the movie and the challenges of actually shooting it. Also interesting is the short special effects featurette, showing us before and after shots, perhaps most impressive of which is how they removed Cotillard’s legs when she’s underwater.
Overall Verdict: A melodrama that’s calculated and manipulative, but which does a good job of hiding it behind skilful direction and great acting. Some may find it goes too far with its slightly random plot developments, but many will adore it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac