Words by Yazen Al Samen
‘Rust and Bone’ has been garnering buzz since its premiere at Cannes, and has recently won the top award at the London Film Festival. I guess it’s the kind of film most people are likely to respond to. I did respond to it, albeit negatively. This is a fragmented film, almost divided by half between the two main characters, and in the hope of finding a catharsis or connection, it falls flat footed.
Marion Cotillard stars as a whale trainer (Stefanie) in a Marine park, and early on she has an accident which means both her legs have to be amputated. Matthias Schoenaerts (Ali) is a petty thief, who has recently started taking care of his ten year old son after his junkie mother threw him away. Schoenaerts heads to his sister’s town hoping to find a stable job and a better life for his son, he meets Cotillard there, and a long, complicated, empty relationship develops from there.
The director is Jacques Audiard, who seems to casually, remorselessly, look at his characters, downplaying any connection, here he is trying to find universality and emotion in a story that has the potential for that, and while some scenes carry some intensity, they are brought about mainly by the actors, and surprisingly most of these scenes have Schoenaerts in them.
However, the film lacks structure, to lack glue or something to hold all these characters together, they seem thrown in there at us to ponder at their existence, rather than use them to express something profound.
In some people’s mind they probably have that payoff at the end. Not me. Cotillard’s performance, while certainly not bad, feels constrained by this script that requires her to stay grounded, even when some melodrama would be alright. It all seems too miserable, too light and too empty to truly offer any resonance.
The only shining star in this offering is Schoenaerts, who exudes energy, depression, and yet, hope as well; which is the opposite of Cotillard. Is that the point? Maybe. There is a great film in there somewhere, but it seems to have gotten lost.