Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Rust and Bone (2012) – Review


Review: Rust and Bone is a strong character drama built on brilliant performances and deft direction. The film is about Stephanie and Alain, two people in the south of France who by different circumstances find themselves in hard times. However, together they are able to find strength.

Writer-director Jacques Audiard’s drama works fundamentally because his characters, Stephanie and Alain, feel real and are relatable to the audience. Unlike most Hollywood character pieces (this is basically the French equivalent), Audiard is unafraid to have his characters be unlikable in moments, which allows them to do horrifying things (especially Alain in his relationship with his son). But, it makes their redemption all the more satisfying and moving an experience for the audience.

As a character drama, the film invites the audience to go on a journey of discovery with the characters on an emotional level. For Stephanie, her journey is about overcoming the tragedy of losing both her legs below the knees in an accident, completely changing her life (or so it first appears). Her story is about finding the strength to start living again, and she finds that in Alain who treats her like he would any other person (instead of like a cripple). Audiard finds real beauty in this character and he expresses it in a visual manner – particularly in the scene in which Stephanie returns to her former place of employment (and the scene of her accident) and plays with the orca she trained. It is incredibly moving and visually magnificent. The audience can easily relate to her from a place of pity or sympathy, but Audiard is not that interested in those emotions, as Stephanie often finds herself offended by those that take pity on her. Audiard strives to have the audience relate on a higher emotional level as she rebuilds herself and her life – not sympathy, but relating to her strength and drive. Her struggle is not a setback, but merely puts her on a new path.

With Alain, Audiard makes it much tougher on the audience. Alain cannot seem to get out of his own way, as he continually makes bad decisions that seem to alienate those around him (especially those that love him), yet he is also the only character to treat Stephanie like a normal woman. His friendship with her comes from a place of empathy, as he can see that she is in a bad place just as he is in a bad place. Alain is completely broke with no real skills. He takes his son away from his drug-addled mother and moves to the south of France to stay with his sister in the hopes that she can help him, because he does not know how to care for him properly. However, he turns to dubious ways of making money, sleeps around, and does not act like a good father – even though deep down he does love his son; he is just weighed down by the stresses of life and does not know how to handle it. He then finds a calling in street fighting; entering into loosely organized fights to make some extra money and Stephanie goes with him. Her presence and her struggle to rebuild herself seem to give him the strength and drive to preserver. And yet, he still cannot get out of his own way. The audience has a much tougher time relating to Alain. His mistakes border on unforgivable, and yet they are all things the viewer could find themselves doing if put under the same pressures and in the same circumstances as him.

While Stephanie’s journey is about remaking herself and perseverance in the face of tragic events, Alain’s journey is one of redemption, and they need each other. It is these overarching narrative tracks that draw the audience in and make the characters ultimately people the audience can get behind and take stock in, despite their mistakes – along with the great performances from the actors and Audiard’s wonderful direction.

The film is a bit emotionally manipulative, as most dramas are. Audiard injects a lot of dramatic tension and elevation into the narrative – like Stephanie losing her legs and Alain constantly making himself the bad guy (and a scene with Alain’s son near the end of the film). There are tear-jerking scenes that play with the audience’s emotions, but Audiard is a good enough director and storyteller to make these heightened dramatic moments feel organic. Yes, the film is manipulating the audience, but it is doing so artfully and meaningfully. The film is not about the dramatic plot points; it is about the characters and their emotional journeys of physical and spiritual redemption.

Rust and Bone is a beautifully shot and acted character drama. It blurs the lines between what the audience sees and expects from its characters and the audience’s own deeper relationship with the characters – in other words, it creates characters that are at face value not necessarily likable but through their emotional journeys the audience comes to feel deeply and care about them, which is all a filmmaker can want and ask for in a film.


Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Jacques Audiard may well be France’s best director working right now. Since 2005, he has made three wonderful films (this, A Prophet, and The Beat That My Heart Skipped – all three are well worth seeing). He does not shy away from characters on the fringe of society. Though, he does not just show them as bad or lesser people. He takes a more realistic approach showing the good and the bad that they are capable of. His characters are much more developed and interesting than almost any others in film right now. I cannot wait for his next film.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is regal and triumphant, perfectly fitting this story of redemption. The film is emotionally intense and visually intimate. Desplat reinforces these elements wonderful with his excellent music. Audiard also employs a great soundtrack that works with the tone of the film incredibly well. Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography is fantastic as well. Fontaine and Audiard use the lighting and camera to capture the intricate emotional details of the performances mixed with expressive visual imagery creating an intimate and visceral experience for the audience. Michel Barthelemy’s production design roots the film very much in reality (and the world in which these characters inhabit – gritty and grimy) again fitting the tone of the film.

Rust and Bone does not have too many dramatically meaty supporting roles, as the film is very much just about Stephanie and Alain and their relationship. However, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero, and Bouli Lanners are good in their small roles. Matthias Schoenaerts (building off his great work in Bullhead) is very good as Alain. He seems so natural in the role that it is as if Audiard just found this character on the streets and had him play himself. He is a brutal and emotionally closed off man, bordering on villainy to some extent, and yet Schoenaerts is able to give him such humanity that the audience cannot help but end up on his side by the end. Marion Cotillard is phenomenal as well. Stephanie has a long road to go from pretty much giving up on life to finding such strength to not only hold herself up but also to hold Alain up as well. He helps her and she helps him. It is easy to dismiss her work playing someone who is crippled as being dramatically low hanging fruit (so to speak), but Cotillard brings so much more to the role. She is heartbreakingly lost only to be the truly strong one in her relationship with Alain. It is emotionally fearless work, and among the year’s best.


Summary & score: Rust and Bone is one of the best character dramas this year, with some of the year’s best leading performances. 8/10

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