A number of elements will be scorched into your consciousness when you emerge blinking from A Prophet director, Jacques Audiard’s latest film. The staggering performances from Cotillard and newcomer (to our eyes anyway), Schoenaerts, who have just acted out the seemingly conventional boy-meets-girl narrative in an unpredictably original way. And possibly, against your better judgement, humming Katy Perry’s hit parade topping “Firework”, used to accompany one of the most surprisingly emotive scenes of the year.
Stephanie (Cotillard) lives life to the full, to almost self-destructive levels. Despite being in what’s glimpsed as a tempestuous relationship, she regularly goes late night clubbing on her own and there’s a hint of prior infidelity. During the day she works at a sea-life centre, training the orcas with a series of balletic hand gestures, to which the whales perform their aquabatics.
Alain (Schoenaerts) is a street-wise single father, schooled in the ways of shoplifting and hitchhiking -- both methods to get him and his son across the country to his sister’s house.
Their paths fleetingly cross during a nightclub exchange, but it’s a catastrophic accident and the tenuous link of their previous meeting that triggers an unorthodox and tender friendship, one which would help mend each others’ emotional shortcomings.
Rust and Bone is as real a depiction of people hitting rock-bottom as you’re likely to see, both for very different reasons.
The portrayal of Stephanie dealing with her disability eschews the usual montage of truncated physiotherapy, and instead lingers on moments of isolation and frustration, making the potential for redemption that much more satisfying for character and audience. Cotillard plays her with a bruised tenderness that makes the usual themes of living life to the fullest, that can so often reduce similarly themed fare into “TV-movie-of-the-week” mawkishness, utterly believable.
Alain’s burdens are equally weighty; his damage may not be of the physical kind, in fact he uses his ripped exterior to exorcise his raging emotional demons, but throughout the course of the film it’s his turmoil that’s the most involving of the duo. The murky background, the morally corrupt way in which he uses, and in some instances, physically abuses his own son, the questions as to why he hasn’t seen his sister in so long. Juggling these schizophrenic characteristics, Schoenaerts is a revelation; condensing this pressure-cooker rage within a softly spoken young man, struggling with fatherhood and a seeming unwillingness to grow up. The moments, during which their facades drop when Stephanie and Alain are together on-screen, exchanging looks more than anything, are the real heart of Rust and Bone. Awards are almost guaranteed to circle them.
Audiard directs with a gentle hand; bringing a luminous soft-glow to Stephanie’s scenes which juxtapose the more hard edged, colder aspects of Alain’s world. It’s filmmaking that stimulates the heart and senses, thanks in no small part to a brilliant soundtrack.
A love story with all of the bruising and scars exposed, Rust and Bone is an uplifting triumph.
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