AFI Day 5: Rust and Bone (***)


After a reel of footage highlighting the best films of her career thus far, the radiant Marion Cotillard graced the stage for a quick conversation before the curtain rose for her latest contribution to French Cinema, Rust and Bone.  She humbly admitted that it was “super weird” and almost “schizophrenic” to see footage of herself spliced together because the characters are all her, yet they’re all different people.  When asked about the path that led to her success in acting, she confided in a time when she considered leaving the profession to pursue something else, but meeting with Tim Burton and getting a role in Big Fish convinced her to stick with it.  And it’s a good thing she did.  Since then, she’s secured roles she feels passionate about, in both French and American films, leading her to an Oscar win for Best Actress for La vie en rose (2007), and teaming up with the likes of Michael Mann, Woody Allen, Steven Soderburgh, and Christopher Nolan along the way.  After the brief sit-down, director Jacques Audiard took the stage to introduce his cast, including Matthias Schoenaerts, who, as if in character, appropriately cued the feature presentation with an exclamation of, “Open the curtain, show the movie.”

While Rust and Bone involves tragedy, it thankfully sidesteps the quicksand of wallowing in or being defined by it, as would have been expected and easy.  Cotillard plays Stéphanie, an orca trainer at an aquatic tourist attraction, who suffers a life-altering accident at work.  Alongside her, Schoenaerts is the ironically considerate, brutish street-boxing drifter, Alain (Ali), who takes on the unlikely task of helping Stéphanie back onto her feet, literally.

Their organic, though undefined, relationship subtly nudges them both toward filling the respective gaps in their lives.  Both Cotillard and Schoenaerts deliver genuine performances, which allow their emotions to be experienced almost preemptively, before their characters feel them.  We anticipate their reactions, not because they are predictable, but because we are beginning to understand them as they are in the process of understanding themselves and each other.  While Cotillard executes her role well enough for a nomination, it is Schoenaerts who easily deserves recognition for his sustained turn as an obliviously uncouth, though well-meaning beefcake whose subdued  façade finally cracks upon the pointed realization of his need to fulfill his responsibilities.  It’s intriguing to wonder if Ali deliberately resists emotional attachments to those around him or he just has an underdeveloped capacity for it, as Schoenaerts deftly tiptoes around the issue.

The film is less about the misfortune which befalls its characters than the subtle ways in which they interact and evolve with one another.  Their hardships are placed in the context of the minisculity of individual lives and everyday occurrences, with no spectacle made by or around Stéphanie and Ali.  This lack of blatant dramatization allows very little opportunity for them, or the audience, to dwell on the unfortunate circumstances, because that’s not the intent.  There’s nothing showy, grand, or dramatic about what these characters come to realize, though they endure some admittedly traumatic events, but it’s because they’re treated as normal people, that their minute steps toward growth are all the more convincing and heartening.

Even with the promising signs toward improvement, the ending doesn’t try to convince you, unrealistically, that Stéphanie and Ali have got it all figured out, instead leaving you in a place where you can comfortably part with their story and be confident in their ability to navigate through the rest on their own.  Rust and Bone succeeds because it smartly avoids the conventions of a drama centered on tragedy and derives its characters’ stories through the natural process of their interactions.

Comment and discuss!

  • Antonio

    I’ve been waiting for your review of one. Personally, I loved it. So it’s clearly good but not great for you. I knew it was gonna be hard for Audiard to match the critic acclaim of his amazing last movie (A prophet). I’m a big Audiard fan.
    The mix of brutality and sweetness really talked to me. It’s a great thing that you talk about M. Shoenaerts because he is really great, it’s very true. He reminded me of DeNiro in Raging Bull. I always loved Cotillard but objectively, I think it’s her best work so far. What did you thought of the special effects? Should the academy consider it?

    • It was really good and will probably grow on me the more I let it sink in since it was so understated. Cotillard was great, but I feel like Schoenaerts had a more complex character to portray so I was a bit more invested in his progress. Their balance together was great though. The effects were pretty impressive, too.

  • Great review Nicole. I too am curious on your thoughts on Cotillard winning her second Oscar.

    • Thanks, Mark. I haven’t seen Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings yet, but once I do I think I’ll be better able to speculate on Cotillard’s chances. I think those two are the front runners, but Jessica Chastain will definitely have something to say about it. In any case, the nom is justified.

  • She’s been my pick for Best Actress for quite a while. It’s good to see a thoughtful review to support my first impressions.

  • I love your writing! I wish I could have seen it with you, and have been hearing/reading fantastic reviews of it. It’s no wonder it’s being considered heavily for an Oscar, eh? Do you feel the plot could have been improved? Or were there any scenes that you particularly liked more than the rest? =) Just curious.

    • Thanks for reading, Tiff. It actually wasn’t heavy on plot, which I liked, since it focused more on character development. There are some scenes which carry more weight than others and place the characters on the brink of some realization, but you’ll see what I mean. Definitely recommend.