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For Your Consideration: 'Rust and Bone'

This French-Belgian film directed by Jacques Audiard, De rouille et d'os, drew some attention at last year's Cannes Festival. Sadly it has drawn little attention in the awards season, with no nominations from the Academy and only one from another organization -- a nomination for Marion Cotillard as Best Actress from the Screen Actors Guild. It is a satisfying film in that it takes a realistic, gritty look at the emotions and fragility of its characters, but the screenplay -- adapted by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain from the short stories by Craig Davidson -- makes a few missteps. Ali, a lovable loser played with brutish honesty by Matthias Schoenaerts, ends up in custody of his son, Sam (a sweet-faced Armand Verdure), and makes his way to his sister's house in Antibes, on the Mediterranean. He can barely take care of himself, let alone a young child, and his sister (Corinne Masiero) and her truck-driving husband manage to take them in for a while.

Chance brings Ali into contact with Stéphanie, who seems just as messed up as he is, especially after a work accident -- by day she is a trainer who works with killer whales at the local ocean park -- leaves her severely disabled. The balletic beauty of the incident is the film's most tense sequence. This is where SAG got it right, because Cotillard's performance is a gut-wrencher -- completely separate from the stunning green-screen effects that alter her body. The performance is award-worthy not just because of the terror of the accident and the emotional and physical torment that follows it, but also because of the character's equally disorienting attachment to Ali. She desperately clings to him, although he is hardly a source of stability. What starts as a casual involvement soon becomes all-embracing, as Stéphanie helps Ali get out of the shady business he has fallen into -- installing hidden cameras to allow business managers to spy on their employees -- and into another.

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Ali, who claims early in the film to have done some kickboxing, finds his way into extreme fighting, first in under-the-counter backalley matches but ultimately in public arenas. At this point, Audiard loses his way, straying from the human drama of his two leads, helping one another so improbably, into the stuff of triumph over adversity. What before felt improbable now feels contrived, smacking of wish fulfillment, a change that ultimately cheapens the film's achievement -- but not that of Cotillard.

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