rustandbone-mv-1The theatrical trailer for Rust and Bone doesn’t show much more than a Killer Whale, a woman who appears to be drowning in the water, and a couple frolicking on the beach.  After seeing it several times I’d already put this film on my “do not watch list.”  But a message through the film community started to spread that Rust and Bone shouldn’t be missed.  The truth lies somewhere between.

Rust and Bone is a French Film directed and written by Jacques Audiard.  It stars the talented Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.  Some of Cotillard’s more popular American films include Contagion, Inception, and Public Enemies.  Schoenaerts is pretty much an unknown in the states, but he managed to hold his own in scenes with Cotillard.

The premise of the film is simple.  Cotillard’s character, Stephanie, is hurt in a freak accident where she works, at Marineland.  Having met Schoenaerts character, Ali, who worked as a bouncer at a nightclub, only once, she then calls him for help after her accident leaves her a double leg amputee.  The one impression Ali gave to Stephanie was when he asked her why she dressed like a whore?  So it is somewhat of a leap to believe that Stephanie would ever call Ali, no matter how alone, desperate, and depressed she felt.  But Ali comes over to Stephanie’s place and what results at first is a friendship.  It is also unclear why Ali would respond to Stephanie.  The only logical assumption is that he is a bit of a loner and besides working nights as a security guard, boxing at the local gym, and having one-night stands with women he picks up, he really doesn’t have anything better to do.

In a predictable fashion their friendship turns sexual, but only in the confines of a friend helping out another friend.  The person in the seat next to mine whispered to me, “That is some friend.”  He was referring to the fact that Ali would bed Stephanie at all, since she had lost both of her legs from the knees down.  After the climax of the film, which I won’t detail in order not to spoil it, the film becomes even more predictable when both Stephanie and Ali realize they’re in love.

I really didn’t think this film was original.  In fact, it was just a retelling of a story that has been told a hundred times before.  But where the film stands out is in its performances by the two leads, its visual effects, its comedic writing despite such a dark premise, and some of the feelings it invokes in the viewer.

rust and bone 2Cotillard’s name will be tossed around this upcoming movie award season and it is because of Rust and Bone.  She gives a powerful performance throughout, of a woman who has lost everything and must learn to find the pleasures in life again.  One scene in particular that really shines, is when she awakes in the hospital disoriented.  Like any of us would do she tries to prop herself up, but doesn’t seem to move an inch.  In a last-ditch effort she throws off her sheets and the viewer is exposed to the fact that her legs are gone.  Does Stephanie know this?  She panics and falls out of bed.  Dragging her upper body across the floor, she screams for help and then yells over and over, “What did you do to my legs?”  It is the type of scene that makes you grimace and your stomach twist.  But Cotillard played it perfectly.

rustandbone-mv-5In Ali, Schoenaerts plays a despicable character.  He is rude to almost everyone, has a son that he barely takes care of and when he does he ends up physically abusing him, and engages in an illegal fighting ring where he feeds off his ability to bloody his opponents into submission.  Despite Ali’s attempts to help Stephanie, he is still unlikable.  The character never really wins over the audience and it takes real acting talent to play this type of role.  Everyone loves a Prince Charming, but what is harder is to play a man with so many wounds he is almost irredeemable.

The visual effects in this film mostly center around Cotillard’s character’s legs.  In scenes where she is in a wheelchair, she is likely just sitting on them.  But in the others, where she is sliding on the floor or learning to walk with her blades, computer-generated imagery (CGI) is used.  The editors did an amazing job making Stephanie look like a real person with two amputations.  There is only one scene in the film, where one can see the outline of Cotillard’s legs.  It is during a swim in the Mediterranean Sea on a sun-filled day.  Ali carries Stephanie out of the water and for a brief second you remember this is all make-believe.  The bright sun reflecting off the sea must have been too much for the color correction editors to battle and they missed fine-tuning the absence of legs for a few moments.

Rust and Bone has a dark undertone and a script that needs some work.  But there are parts of the dialogue that invoke a laugh or two.  Most of it is sexual innuendo and at the hands of Ali, but it really is funny and adds a layer of levity to the film.

The other thing that this film does right is its scenes with the Killer Whale.  In the beginning of the film, prior to the accident, we catch a glimpse into Stephanie’s work world.  She is a trainer at Marineland, the French equivalent to SeaWorld.  Before a packed crowd of eyes, she uses different hand gestures to control the enormous Killer Whale.  The spectators clap, hold balloons and are entertained by a group of cheerleaders, pom-poms and all.  Popular rap anthems from the early 1990’s blast through the filled arena, ramping up the crowd even more.  And then the camera goes underwater.  We see the Killer Whale swim in its prison like tank and hear what it sounds like beneath the surface.  It is a combination of a loud roar and something similar to a stampede.  I’m sure representatives from most aquatic parks would tell us the whales are used to all the noise, but it seemed to me the film was reminding us that this isn’t normal.  These whales aren’t only being tortured by swimming the rest of their life in captivity, but also by the obnoxious crowd of patrons who gear up to watch a trained mammal do a trick.  They act like they are seeing the final touchdown at a Super Bowl game.  The scene was so effective in pointing out the absurdity of it all, I actually felt a little guilty for my past trips to SeaWorld.

rust and boneWhere this scene, right before the accident, invokes a feeling of shame and terror because if anyone has seen the trailer, they know something bad is going to happen; a scene later in the film does the exact opposite.  It uses the Killer Whale to show both the change in Stephanie and the relationship bond that can form between animal and human.  With her new-found confidence, thanks to her blades and sexual relations with Ali, Stephanie pays a visit to her former employer.  She stands behind a giant glass wall that is a window into the tank where the Killer Whale resides.  She puts her hand up to the glass and waits.  And then, after a few minutes, the whale comes to the glass and puts his nose right up to Stephanie’s hand.  It is a heart-felt moment, because we see how Stephanie feels about these mammals she has trained.  Even though her job resulted in a horrible life changing event, she still connects to the whale and doesn’t hold the animal accountable.  If the first scene at Marineland echoes an environment of disgust, this second scene details the beauty in life and the ability for the human body and mind to heal from tragedy.

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