Getting down to the core of our humanity (or the bone, if you will) is a difficult and unsavory task, but you may hardly notice just how rough it can be until Jacques Audiard has released you from his grasp when the credits of “Rust and Bone” roll. His cinematic paean to the resilience of the human spirit takes two characters down to their most starkly naked vulnerability, putting them through an emotional and physical gauntlet that tries them as well as the audience. The end of the tunnel may not be brightly lit or accompanied by tremendous fanfare, but it reinvigorates and revitalizes in a way that only a truly great movie can.
With two phenomenal actors, Matthias Schoenaerts, on the way up after last year’s Oscar-nominated “Bullhead,” and Marion Cotillard, who continues to prove movie after movie that “La Vie En Rose” was no fluke, “Rust and Bone” aims for painful areas of the psyche. Failure, loss, disappointment, desperation, and adversity are all sores opened by the movie, and it continues to stick a finger in them when it would be far less painful to just think about them being there. Yet it is precisely this wrenching of the soul that gives the film power and emphasis. In a cinematic climate where misfortune has evolved from beyond a niche and is moving towards an entire genre in and of itself, it takes a lot for a movie to distinguish itself from the pack.
And believe me, from now on when I think of films about the mettle it takes to overcome immense tribulations, “Rust and Bone” will shoot to the front of my mind. And that’s not just because Marion Cotillard is proudly sporting two limbs instead of four for the majority of the film. Audiard, who also co-wrote the film, finds a natural way to intertwine two disparate tales of suffering into a satisfying and believable romance without hokey stunts or sensationalism.
Her Stephanie is a former whale trainer at the French equivalent of SeaWorld turned Cannes penthouse-dweller after a tragic accident in the water. His Alain is a well-meaning but deadbeat dad as well as street fighter for cash on the side just to get by. They meet at the beginning of the film when Alain kicks Stephanie out of the bar after she starts a fight; while it’s a strange connection, apparently it was enough for her to call him when she gets lonely in her insurance claim-purchased apartment.
Sure, the precipitating event may be a little bit of a stretch, but what ensues as they build an incredible rapport to shelter each other from pain makes up for the lack of believability of their inception. Cotillard and Schoenaerts don’t sport a typical romantic chemistry, but they feel all the more real and human because of it. Both meet the emotional demands of the script, exposing themselves both spiritually and physically to each other and to the audience. (Translation from serious movie critic pose: they are naked a lot, sometimes maybe even a little gratuitously.) Together with their bold helmer Audiard, they boldly go where few will go and bring us out in a hardly glorious but nevertheless moving affirmation of the ability of humans to be courageous and to change.