|Stéfanie (Marion Cotillard) in Rust and Bone.|
By John Esther
By hook, crook and "booking it," Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his five-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), have made it to Antibes to live with his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), who he has not seen in five years. Anna gives her brother and nephew a couple of beds and shares her small refrigerator filled with the outdated food she brings home from her work, organized by the expiration date.
A husky man with emotional disabilities, Ali takes on many jobs throughout director/co-writer Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os). The first one is as a bouncer at a nightclub called Annex (the name of the club gets some legroom as the film goes on). A fight breaks out between two men with Stéfanie (Marion Cotillard) getting injured in the process.
Ali gives Stéfanie a ride home, making his share of machismo remarks along the way. Stéfanie is not really going for him but she lets Ali in the house where her significant other, Simon (Yannick Choirat), is waiting. Ready to play the tough guy, Simon cowers before Ali. Stéfanie likes that.
However, Stéfanie will not be too happy for long. During a show at Marineland Stéfanie suffers a horrific accident at the mouth of a killer whale. Thankfully, without all the gore.
Physically disabled, Stéfanie and the emotionally crippled Ali forge a meaningful relationship. He takes her to the beach, she supports his illegal fighting matches, and they occasionally have sex. Yet, Ali continues to screw up.
There is a lot going for Rust and Bone. Featuring quite a few scenes of great direction -- the accident scene is a tour-de-force; the digital composition is flawless -- Stéfanie, Ali and the others, are also some of of the best written characters this year. They are extremely flawed, barely likable people at times, yet they are genuine. One does not have to like Ali and Stéfanie to understand them. (It is no wonder France did not submit this film as its Oscar submission; Ali and Stéfanie are not heroic enough for the reactionary Academy.)
Along those lines the film offers an honest portrayal of working class struggles, where everybody scrapes by, often working two or more jobs just to live.
The acting is superb, too.
Moreover, it takes great strengths and lengths to show the value of friendship during life. Audiard and cinematrographer, Stéphane Fontaine repectfully guide the camera across the people who make up the lives of the film's two primary protagonists. Stéfanie's friend and co-worker, Louise (Celine Sallette), has a relatively small part, but she is memorable for just being there for Stéfanie. Anna is an interesting, sympathetic charcater in her own right. She deserves her own film.The depth of humanity here is worthy of the filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (High and Low; Red Beard; Ikuru).
And though it is one of the better films of the year, Rust and Bone has its faults. Based on Rust and Bone a collection of short stories of Canadian writer Craig Davidson, the film is rife with hyper dramatic scenes: near-deaths; fights; numerous confrontations. It is also way too conservative with the sex scenes. Considering Ali's strength and Stéfanie's size, the sex is uneventful.
Yet despite its dramatic hyper realization and sexual reservation, there are few films this year are as humane, human, complex and sophisticated as Rust and Bone.