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Rust and Bone
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Rust Never Weeps"
5 stars

If "Rust and Bone" were a standard-issue romantic melodrama from these parts--the kind torn from the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel, featuring the likes of Zac Efron and Julianne Hough in front of the cameras and some amiable hack behind them and tossed out into the marketplace on the weekend before Valentine's Day--there is a good-to-excellent chance that it would go down as one of the silliest and tackiest films of its type ever produced by semi-human hands. However, it hails from France and that is a good thing indeed because when it comes to presenting romantic melodrama of a borderline absurdist nature, they know how to do it with a certain style and heedless energy that helps to elevate the material from the mere mawkishness to which it might have descended to in more timid hands. That is certainly the case with "Rust and Bone" because here is a film that takes one of the goofiest premises that I can recall that did not involve the presence of Adam Sandler in some way and transforms it into a one-of-a-kind romantic epic that will have viewers swooning in their seats in pure rapture. Well, either that or rolling in the aisles in pure hysterics, depending on your own personal tolerance level for such things.

Our hero, for lack of a better term, is Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a self-absorbed bruiser, and as the story opens, he, along with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure), is fleeing Belgium to live with his sister, Anna (Corinne Magiero), and her husband in Antibes. He loves his son to a certain degree but has no real idea of how to relate to him as a father and indeed, as soon as he arrives at Anna's, he basically dumps Sam there in order to go off and do his own thing. Ali's big dream in life is to be a kick-boxer but for the time being, the only fights that he can get are illegal street brawls in which opponents risk life and limb in order to score a few quick bucks. To make ends meet, Ali gets a job as a bouncer in a nightclub and one night, he rescues a beautiful customer from the clutches of an over-ardent pursuer. She is Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer at the local aquatic park and a piece of work herself--while being walked home by Ali, she freely admits to him that she likes turning men on but quickly grows bored with them after that has been achieved. Nevertheless, Ali gives her his phone number--though mostly because he is standing right in front of her boyfriend while doing it--and it is all but inevitable that there two will wind up together again before too long.

What is not quite as inevitable, however, are the circumstances surrounding their reunion. One day while Stephanie is at work, there is a horrible accident involving one of the killer whales that results and when she awakes in the hospital, she is horrified to discover that she has lost both of her legs below the knee. Alone and catastrophically depressed, she impulsively calls Ali and true to his nature, when he comes over, he hardly even seems to take notice of her injuries. Perversely, his frankness and inability to sugarcoat anything turns out to be just what she needs--she knows that he is telling her what he sincerely means and not what he thinks she wants to hear--and she slowly begins to rejoin the world once again. The friendship has some rough patches--he suggests at one point that they sleep together just to see if she can still have sex despite the loss of her limbs and he later takes her to a nightclub only to leave her there to go off with a one-night stand--but it eventually develops into some kind of genuine romantic relationship in which the two damaged people, one physically and the other emotionally, turn out to perfectly complement each other after all, although there are enough melodramatic twists and turns along the way to ensure that it will be a while before they make it to happily ever after.

On paper, "Rust and Bone" sounds so utter screwy--especially for a movie meant to be taken seriously--that there doesn't seem to be any possible way that it could possibly work and yet, I found myself absolutely captivated by it. Sure, the story is nuts and some of the dramatic developments in the third act involving Ali's sister and son run the gamut from the pointless to the borderline unforgivable but in a film that goes for broke as often as this one does, some rough spots are to be expected. The film was directed and co-written by Jacques Audiard, whose previous films have included the acclaimed "A Prophet" and the "Fingers" remake "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," and while he might not immediately seem like the ideal person to tell this story--it sounds like the kind of thing more suited to a more overtly flamboyant director like Leos Carax or Jean-Jacques Beineix--he handles the material beautifully. Instead of approaching its dramatic excesses with the kind of ironic touch that lets the audience know that he is in one the joke, he handles it in the most serious manner possible and the intensity he brings is a perfect match for the intensity of his central characters and their tricky, volatile and passionate relationship. At the same time, Audiard is more than capable of springing the occasional grand cinematic gesture when the time is right and there is one here--a moment where Stephanie and the killer whale responsible for her condition silently regard each other through the glass walls of the tank separating them--that is possible the single most gorgeous image to appear in any film this year.

Aiding immeasurably to the success of "Rust and Bone" are the mesmerizing performances by Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard in the central roles. Both of them are working with extremely tricky roles with challenges that would stymie most actors--Schoenaerts is playing arguably the most resolutely unsympathetic character at the center of what is meant to be a love story since Robert De Niro annoyed one and all in "New York, New York" while Cotillard has to convince viewers that she has no legs even though presumably everyone watching her knows that she has as nice a pair of stems as anyone working in films today--and they both somehow manage to overcome these obstacles in spectacular fashion. You may recall Schoenaerts from his turn as the steroid-ravaged hulk at the center of last year's critically acclaimed drama "Bullhead," a part not dissimilar from his role here, as as good as he was there, he is even better here. His Ali is as unlikable as can be but his self-absorbed brutishness is absolutely compelling and once we get to know his character a little better as the film progresses, he somehow manages to make him sympathetic despite never getting any of the softer moments that another film might have inserted in a desperate attempt to make him seem more likable. As for Cotillard, she reconfirms her position as one of the most exciting presences to grace the silver screen in our time with a performance that pretty much surpasses everything she has done before, even her award-winning impersonation of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose." Her work her is a true high-wire act--even one slight false step and both the performance and the film are doomed--and she proves to be more than up to the challenge--not only does she make you believe that she has lost her legs (aided by some impressive CGI work), she makes you believe in a character that might have otherwise come across as absolutely ludicrous.

As the reviews that have been following it ever since it premiered at Cannes earlier this year, "Rust and Bone" is the kind of film that will deeply polarize audiences--for every viewer who is completely knocked out by its audaciousness, there will be another who will dismiss it as the silliest thing ever made. Personally, I loved every frame of it--even its kookiest moments have a vibrancy to them that is utterly lacking in most contemporary movies--and while I can understand why others might feel differently, it breaks my heart in a way that they are unable to fully accept and embrace its magic for themselves. All I can say is that for those of you who prefer your melodramas to be presented in a more conventional manner without any goofball excesses to trouble the soul, you should wait a few days and spend your money on the familiar-but-flat likes of "Les Miserables." On the other hand, if you are the kind of moviegoer who thrives on seeing things that are bold, risky and unlike anything that you might have ever imagined seeing in the movie--if you want a genuine experience that grabs and challenges you instead of something that passively plays out before your eyes--then "Rust and Bone" is the movie for you.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23746&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/20/12 21:49:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2012 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2012 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/23/13 mr.mike Well done with good performances. 4 stars
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  23-Nov-2012 (R)
  DVD: 19-Mar-2013


  DVD: 19-Mar-2013

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