The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!
Jacques Audiard’s follow up to the remarkable 2009 film Un Prophète, Rust and Bone tells the story of Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) and Ali (Matthias Schoenarts), two people struggling for purpose who form an unlikely bond following a tragic workplace accident that leaves Stéphanie permanently disabled.
It is a challenging film that presents its audience with two leads who aren’t exactly the easiest characters to like, with Stéphanie initially sinking into self-pity following her accident, and Ali selfishly putting himself ahead of everyone else in his life, even his young son Sam (Armand Verdure).
However, Audiard never demands sympathy, instead choosing to simply present his characters as real people with both physical and internal flaws, and the very stark, at times overexposed look effectively puts them all on display. It is fascinating in particular to watch Cotillard bring Stéphanie out of her depression as the unconventional friendship unfolds, spurred on by the brutish Ali.
It’s also an often surprising film, taking turns that may not work as well had the characters not been so well fleshed out through the excellent performances. There are moments of genuine emotional impact (one of which is set to a Katy Perry song of all things), both uplifting and devastating.
It’s arguable that the unfocused narrative and perhaps under-explained catalyst for Stéphanie and Ali’s relationship work to the film’s detriment, but Rust and Bone is clearly more concerned with character than story. We’re not asked to enjoy the time spent with Stéphanie and Ali as such, but rather to observe and understand the bitter loneliness of this duo who desperately support each other through the trauma of their existence. By turns gruelling and hopeful, Rust and Bone is a physical, gritty film of uncommon power.