Rust and Bone (2012)

Audiard’s direction of his actors is excellent, but the film is marred by his weak handling of tone.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Review #831

Dir. Jacques Audiard
2012 | France | Drama/Romance | 122 mins | 2.35:1 | French & English
M18 (passed clean) for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure
Plot: Ali is seeking a home for himself and his young son Sam when he meets Stephanie, who trains killer whales in an aqua park. Their lives are dramatically fused together after a horrific work accident.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Nom. for 2 Golden Globes – Best Leading Actress (Drama), Best Foreign Language Film.

International Sales: Celluloid Dreams

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Human Struggle
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: French Film Festival
First Published: 14 Dec 2012
Spoilers: No

This film has been relatively well-received in festival circuits, so it might be surprising that I didn’t really like it.  In competition at Cannes, Rust and Bone comes with the reputation of being helmed by Jacques Audiard, who previously made The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005) and A Prophet (2009), the latter winning the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. 

However, reputation counts for nothing as the film left me with one of a few frustrating experiences in the theater this year.  It frustrates primarily because of the film’s inconsistent tone… but more on that later.

Rust and Bone is a story of an unlikely romance between Ali, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, and Stephanie, played by Marion Cotillard.  Ali works as a security guard but takes part in illegal street fights to earn extra money to support his young son.  Stephanie is a killer whale trainer who suffers a horrible accident that sees her lose both her legs.  

Prior to the accident, they have met outside a club.  After the accident, they continue to keep each other company – going to the beach to swim and attending the street fights, and curiously after some time has passed, they only start to have sex.

“Is that you in the photos with the orcas?”

Audiard’s direction of his leading cast is excellent, with Cotillard proving to be one of the best French actresses of her generation, easily switching from Hollywood blockbusters like Inception (2010) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) to more arthouse fare like Rust and Bone.  

Her performance here is superb as she plays an amputee with a mix of optimism and resignation.  She is backed by Schoenaerts, who gives a less polished performance in line with his rugged character. 

Rust and Bone touches on the theme of the expectations of love – Ali’s love for his son is tested in a harrowing incident towards the end of the film, while his ‘love’ for Stephanie grows deeper, but not exactly satisfyingly, sexual or otherwise.

The problem with Rust and Bone, and it is a significant issue for me, is that the film’s handling of tone is weak. The music used – a combination of non-French pop tracks and Alexandre Desplat’s underused score – does not help to focus the viewer’s emotions.  It is loud and harsh when it does not need to be, and the transition to the more evocative music by Desplat in many scenes feels jarring. 

As a result, Rust and Bone while finely acted seems to be fragmented because of its inconsistent aural tone.  It made the film less enjoyable to watch, and the entire experience feels underwhelming.

Grade: C+



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