Rust and Bone or De rouille et d'os in its original French title is a 2012 melodrama staring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. An unemployed man moves from Belgium to the south of France with his five year old son in search of a better life. Finding nothing but poverty and overly macho, short term jobs he meets a Killer Whale trainer who has become involved in a fight outside a nightclub he is working at. Months later she calls him while depressed while she is recovering from a severe injury sustained while working with the whales. The two strike up a complex friendship with each helping the other out of the rut they find their lives in.
Rust and Bone features a couple of extremely proficient performances, some wonderful cinematography, a tough story and excellent soundtrack but is not an easy watch. There are moments of extreme violence and heartache which will make the audience recoil in their seat and don’t go in expecting a traditional French love story because you won’t find it here.
The relationship between the two characters is both mutually beneficial and erratic as each character, as broken as the other feels guilt and unease at their situation. The friendship ebbs and flows between feeling sorry for one another to genuine heartfelt emotion and at times elation but is never simple. I was never able to take my eyes of the screen in part thanks to two excellent performances. I’ve read comparisons to Brando and Hardy in Schoenaerts macho character but he also has the self destructive tendencies of a Travis Bickle. It is often difficult to see through the character’s exterior to see how he really feels about those around him and his son is a prime example of this. You always have the feeling that he cares a lot for his young child but it rarely manifests itself with actions or even expression. It is almost as though the child is just an obstacle in his quest for exhilaration, sex and fun. Occasionally this is completely reversed though and you get the sense that there is nothing more important in his life than his child. This is expressed magnificently in the lake scene which is one of the most upsetting. Schoenaerts rarely allows the audience to see beyond his exterior but for brief moments of letting his guard down.
Marion Cotillard’s performance is mesmerising. She has an ability to present any emotion with her face while remaining almost stoic. It’s not like she is Jim Carrey, gurning at the camera, she manages to remain perfectly still and peaceful yet you can read her face like a book. Her depression is wonderfully portrayed and her brief moments of joy following her harrowing incident are all the more welcome given the gloomy nature of the screenplay. Her physical acting is also put to the test here as she is unable to use vital parts of her, shall I say well crafted body. I'm always impressed when a beautiful actor plays their looks down as Cotillard does here. Everyone knows how attractive she is but here she plays against her looks with a drab, melancholic look. As a fan of both Cotillard’s acting and looks it was very welcome to see that although some of her was missing, there was much more on display than usual… In that respect the sex scenes were very tender and loving despite the characters themselves unsure as to their feelings towards each other. Although first seen almost as a pity fuck, they grow into something much more sensual and with the camera focussing on certain parts of Cotillard’s broken body, become quite beautiful.
The special effects look stunning here and I have no idea how some of it was done. Obviously sometimes things can be hidden inside chairs or filmed from certain angles and of course it is possible to digitally remove things from a frame but there is a scene in water which is just incredible. I’ve been trying very hard not to include spoilers so can’t say too much but certain things should be in water and aren’t and I can’t work out how it was done. Although they are often subtle the effects must have been a logistical nightmare. The cinematography is also very beautiful with both characters often backlit by the sun, giving a warm golden glow to the screen. This juxtaposition between the beauty of the French coast and poverty and broken lives works really well. Just as in Director Audiard's previous film A Prophet, he manages to find great beauty in decaying, ugly environments.
In the end Rust and Bone is a difficult to watch but beautiful film that features a couple of damaged characters who are acted superbly by a great central cast. There are tough moments but also moments of love and beauty and it’s a film worth seeing.