Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os),
120 mins, rated TBA, opens 28 March 2013
By MICHELE ASPREY, Lawyer
(This is my review as published in
the April issue of the NSW Law Society Journal)
Marion Cotillard, the star of Rust
and Bone, has established herself as one of today's best actors,
whether working in French or English. She first came to the notice of
English-speakers for her tour-de-force role as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose (Olivier Dahan,
2007). She won an Oscar for best actress in a leading role for that
performance, and has since appeared in popular films such as Inception (2010), Midnight in Paris (2011), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
She is one of only three actresses to have won a best actress Oscar for
performances in a language other than English. (The other two are
Sophia Loren in Two Women
(1960) and Marlee Matlin in Children
of a Lesser God (1986), using American sign language).
In Rust and Bone, set mostly
on the Côte d’Azur, Cotillard (playing Stéphanie) has to
make a drastic transformation. We first see her in a nightclub where,
slightly drunk, she becomes involved in an ugly fight, from which she
is rescued by bouncer Ali (the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts).
Earlier we have seen that Ali is not your stock-standard bouncer. He
has a young son, his no-good wife has abandoned them, and he is
desperately poor, living in the garage of his sister, Anna (Corinne
Masiero) for lack of anywhere better.
The director, Jacques Audiard (A
Prophet, 2009, The Beat My
Heart Skipped, 2005) is concerned with the contrast between the
rich and poor on the Côte d’Azur, and other social issues such as
the ethics of management spying on its workers. This adds texture and
veracity to the film’s background, but always in the foreground is the
extraordinary evolution of the characters of Ali and Stéphanie.
Ali soon learns that Stéphanie is not your average nightclub
floozy. She has an unusual job: she trains and performs with killer
whales at a marine park in Antibes. Ali leaves her his phone number,
not really expecting to hear from her again. He probably would have
been right, were it not for the fact that tragedy strikes
Stéphanie, forcing in her a major physical and emotional
transformation (the physical transformation is achieved by means of
some remarkable CGI). And Stéphanie’s change is itself the
catalyst for a profound change in Ali.
This could have been the most ordinary of melodramas, despite the odd
involvement of the killer whales and the Marineland show (which is
tacky in an 'only-in-France' way, with the animals and their trainers
“dancing” to disco music). But Audiard leavens both the melodrama
and the love story with some hard-to-watch scenes involving Ali’s
attempt to make some extra money as a fist-fighter.
Audiard has said that he wanted “to look emotions in the eye and take
them to the end, even to risk going too far and being excessive and
ridiculous.” He is on the verge of this towards the end of the film in
a scene involving Ali’s young son, Sam (Armand Verdure). But Audiard
has impeccable judgment. In the end he achieves an exquisite balance of
the sweet and the horrific, and combines it with some unexpected,
almost expressionist cinematography (the French Riviera has never
looked quite like this). Together with finely-judged performances by
Cotillard and Schoenaerts, it makes for a far more interesting film
than it might have been, had Audiard remained faithful to the source
material: several short stories by the Canadian writer Craig Davidson.
Original music is provided by the very busy Alexandre Desplat, with
some well-chosen popular songs as well (Stéphanie loves
dancing). And there is an extraordinary scene involving
Stéphanie confronting a killer whale once more from behind the
aquarium glass, choreographing the movements of the giant mammal with
the delicacy of a maestro. A bit like director Audiard, really.