Review: Rust and Bone

(Jacques Audiard, 2012)

Jacques Audiard showed himself to be a filmmaker willing to take bold steps in daring directions with 2009′s celebrated A Prophet. With Rust and Bone he journeys further into the inner workings of damaged souls, taking a grotty wander through the harshness of overcoming physical and mental roadblocks. An amalgamation of Canadian writer Craig Davidson’s set of stories, Audiard’s latest meets perseverance with down-and-dirty life reassessments, mixing together a gruff and sometimes inconsistent cocktail of moral hardships that are as uneven as they are relentlessly tragic.

The star of Bullhead – Belgium’s Best Foreign Language entry at this year’s Academy Awards, Matthias Schoenaerts relays his excellent abilities at channelling the robustness of his persuasively rugged stature through his performance as a mostly unlikable, hot-headed brute who finds it difficult to cap his cantankerous rage. He plays Ali, a man searching for a home for himself and his malnourished five-year-old son Sam (Armand Verdure). Imposing on his estranged sister and quickly finding work as a bouncer in a Côte d’Azur nightclub, Ali soon meets (and saves) Stephanie (courageously performed by Marion Cotillard), a self-destructive beauty who trains killer whales at a local marine park.

After losing both her legs in a tragic, whale-inflicted accident, Stephanie recalls the kindness of Ali’s stranger and turns to him for help in her acquaintance with a new and drastically altered life. Becoming fused together by mutual understandings and a desire to fulfil gaping loneliness, Ali and Stephanie embark on an intimate and understanding relationship, providing each other with a gratifying and sexual light at the end of their dark, struggling tunnels.

Somewhat marred by a rhapsodic and sometimes manipulative use of music (most significantly Audiard’s utilisation of that age-old trick of cutting disturbing scenes with jovial music, seen here with Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ during one of the film’s many devastating moments), Rust and Bone is, for the most part however, a candid and visually audacious work from Audiard, who imbues the screenplay he co-wrote with Thomas Bidegain with an intense treatment of the melodrama Davidson’s story’s provide in droves. Yet, as much as the film makes full use of the hardships faced by the two initially unsympathetic – but engrossing – protagonists, it mirrors somewhat the piecemeal nature of its source material, cutting from one emotionally fraught and powerfully shot incident to the next and creating a merciless smorgasbord of unsubtle tragedy, uneasily gelled together with little payoff.

Wringing out as much pathos from the otherwise absorbing and ultimately hopeful narrative, Rust and Bone is a muddy slice of urban disease set in a world where happiness is something only rewarded to the strong and determined, but even then easily stripped away by the inescapable nature of life’s punishing coincidences.

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