Lost In the Crevices – Brett’s Overlooked Film of the Week: “Rust and Bone” (2012)
There’s a scene in Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” that unlocks the secret to the film, and if you’re paying attention, it packs a powerful emotional payoff. Its detractors never found it, or perhaps didn’t choose to. Whatever the case, it’s there for the taking: it’s subtle, revelatory and crucial; a planted seed waiting to sprout into the subconscious.
Stephanie (Marion Cotillard)—an expertly seasoned whale trainer—has just suffered a horrendous accident that causes her to lose both her legs, as well as her will to live. She looks over at Ali (Matthius Schoenaerts) in the back of the van. He’s been abundantly gracious in assisting her, especially for a near-total stranger. He’s just won the first of his fights for betting money. Stephanie examines him and shifts a deeply affectionate gaze. It’s one we’ve never seen her give before and, suddenly, a long-withstanding emotional void is filled.
And so begins the roller-coaster ride of “Rust and Bone,” a beautifully detailed examination of marked traits, elusive temperament and an attempt by two people to find solace not only through each other, but within themselves. It’s a character study–with a capital C–that follows its subjects through the tumultuous death and rebirth of two emotionally wrecked lives.
Stephanie and Ali first meet before the accident. She is slender and beautiful. She gets by the best way she knows how: through sex appeal and breathtaking good looks. There’s no need for much discussion or one-sided vulnerability when you possess such power over men.
Ali is rough, rugged, cut and handsome. Sex for him is also an easy acquisition, as well as a commonly made proposition. The two of them first meet after Ali breaks up a fight at a local night club. Stephanie is involved in the scuffle, and Ali escorts her home out of concern for her safety. He is invited in to ice his knuckles. Her disposition remains vapid and uninterested.
Then, the accident.
One night, Ali’s phone rings. Stephanie’s voice can faintly, meekly be heard on the other end of the line. He had heard about the accident on the news. Sensing her guised attempt at reaching out, Ali meets her at her apartment. It’s bare and hollow, much like Stephanie herself. Ali has always had a knack for showing deep compassion and, sensing Stephanie’s desire to climb out of her overwhelming depression, Ali gets her out, about, around and back again.
The two form a bond, substantively hollow, practical in the purpose it’s intended to serve… at first: Stephanie can’t remember what having sex feels like, and, well, you know the rest. Visibly ecstatic, the two begin to share more encounters, and slowly, an uncontrollable connection begins to form. I use the word “uncontrollable” because, like many things, our desire for companionship is an invaluable and ever-present intangible.
As a deeper connection begins to take root, Ali’s impervious disposition toward vulnerability begins to crumble, and, by the end, he’ll rely on Stephanie’s newfound compassion more than he ever could have envisioned.
Their bond becomes a kind of multifaceted cure; it fills the emptiness they have both become accustomed to “dealing with” and, only through loss do our protagonists discover their subconscious desire to seek someone who can empathize with their fears and accept their shortcomings. For this, “Rust and Bone” is a breathtaking and profoundly emotional story of how turbulent the process of rebuilding shattered lives can be.
Marion Cotillard’s range as an actress has been on full display since her breakout performance in “La Vie en Rose” (2007). For American moviegoers, Christopher Nolan’s cerebral Rubik’s Cube “Inception” placed her on the radar, but “Rust and Bone” is Cotillard’s most vulnerable and revealing performance to date. The depth on display here is spellbinding; her portrayal of a woman on the brink of collapse is fearless, subdued and unequivocally raw.
I’ve always believed that the film medium is the best device by which an artist can tell a story. It allows a director endless capability of vision, and Audiard’s story benefits from this element tenfold: only with such an expansive canvas can one tell a nuanced and dynamic story such as “Rust and Bone.”
The medium provides the canvas, and Audiard transforms it into something masterful.