By: Jonathan Richards Published online: Friday, January 18, 2013 Appeared in: Pasateimpo
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Audiard brings together two damaged
characters in a drama of self-discovery.
Tough guy Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is self-centered
and a bit brutish, but not a bad sort. Cool, beautiful,
Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) is head orca trainer at
Marineland in Antibes, till she loses both legs at the
knee to a killer whale. Ali has a 5-year-old son, with
whom he is careless and disengaged, as he is with
Stéphanie. But he helps her get back on her feet, so to
speak, and their relationship develops. Audiard mixes
brutishness and poetry, mostly to good effect, but loses
the ending to sentimentality. Rated R. 120 minutes.
In French with subtitles.
Rust and Bone, drama, in French with subtitles,
rated R, Regal DeVargas, 3 chiles
If ever you’re having a really bad day — the flu
lingering, the toilet overflowing, the car going
ka-plock ka-plock — just remind yourself that
things could be worse. You could have had your
legs bitten off by a killer whale.
That’s the kind of day Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard),
the head orca trainer at Marineland in Antibes, has.
One moment she’s putting the great seagoing mammals through their paces, persuading them to leap
from the pool in tandem with water cascading from
their massive black-and-white bodies. The next,
all hell has broken loose, and she wakes up in the
hospital with nothing left from the knees down.
Cotillard is one of only two women — the other
was Sophia Loren, for Two Women — to win a
best-leading-actress Oscar for a foreign-language
role (as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose). She is a hell
of an actress, and she makes you feel the anguish
of that moment of discovery deep in your gut. She
goes through shock and harrowing depression. For
a long time she keeps to her room, shades drawn,
seeing no one.
But she’s a tough girl, and gradually she begins
to pull herself out of it. And one day she picks up
the phone and calls Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a
nightclub bouncer she met one night when he saved
her from a brawl. They don’t really know each other,
but he gave her his phone number, and something
about him stuck in her mind.
We’ve met Ali before. The film opens with him
on a train with his 5-year-old son, Sam (Armand
Verdure), heading for Antibes. They’re broke. “I’m
hungry,” the boy complains, and Ali scavenges
the train car for half-eaten sandwiches and bags of
chips. They make a pretty good meal of it, too —
it’s eye-opening how much food gets left behind by
travelers on the Côte d’Azure.
Ali is a bruiser and a brute. But he’s not devoid of
all moral compass. We gather that the reason he’s
taken custody of the kid is that his mother was using
him to smuggle drugs. Still, Ali is not much of a dad.
He keeps forgetting to pick up Sam at school and is
generally pretty lax about keeping an eye on him.
They crash with his sister and her husband, and she
helps him get the bouncer job. Pretty soon he moves
on to work as a security guard, and moonlights for
a shady guy named Martial (Bouli Lanners) who
installs surreptitious video equipment for businesses
to spy on their employees.
When Stéphanie calls, Ali comes over, and a
relationship begins to develop between the tough
guy and the wounded woman. He gets her to eat,
he gets her to smile. He takes her down to the beach,
and finally convinces her to go for a swim.
We’ve been aware of her leglessness for a while
by now, but this is where it knocks you over. As Ali
scoops her up in his arms, and the towel falls away
from her bathing-suited body, we see the naked
stumps of her legs full on. My first thought was,
How the #@&* did they do that? My second was,
I know actors like De Niro and Christian Bale will
gain or lose a lot of weight for a part, but this lady
puts them to shame. This is CGI brought to a shockingly intimate level. We’re used to tsunamis, and
cities being destroyed. We’re not prepared for this.
Together, they navigate stages of Stéphanie’s
rehabilitation. Before, she had been a tease. “I liked
turning them on,” she tells Ali. “Then I got bored.”
Now, she’s not sure if the sexual equipment even still
works. Ali, amiable but not a smooth talker, offers
in the crudest way to help her find out. Everything
seems to work fine, and it’s another major step in
her return to life. The sex scenes are among the
most unusual you’ll ever see on film.
Ali’s other extracurricular employment is as a
bare-knuckle fighter, brawling for money in smash-
mouth bouts of the kind that movies love, with
the blood spewing in gelatinous sheets, not unlike
the spray made by an orca breaking the surface.
Stéphanie comes to the fights, and in one of the
movie’s most ill-considered scenes, inspires Ali to
turn the tables when he is getting the crap beaten
out of him when she limps over toward the fight
on her new prosthetic limbs.
But director Jacques Audiard can deal in poetry as
well as rough stuff, and nowhere better than when
he brings Stéphanie back for a visit to her old place
of work. A moment of communion between her and
an orca, possibly the one who ate her legs, through
the glass wall of the Marineland tank, is as affecting
as any love scene. But, as with the tiger in Life of
Pi, one needs to be cautious not to go overboard
ascribing human emotions to wild animals.
While Stéphanie is growing and changing, Ali
is not. It will take a terrible crisis, triggered by a
character flaw we’ve noted already, to shock him out
of his blithe self-centeredness. In human terms, it’s a
positive turn of events. In movie terms, it makes for
a flabby ending to a muscular film.