In 2009 French director Jacques Audiard won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival with his stunning film A Prophet which was then nominated for an Academy Award. Rust and Bone is his follow up feature, another gritty, tough film – but this one an extraordinary love story. With outstanding performances from Marion Cotillard and Matthais Schoenaerts, the film also screened in competition at Cannes, where some found the bone-crunching story of unlikely lovers contrived in places, but whether you can identify with the two deeply troubled central characters or not, there is no denying the cinematic power of Audiard’s fearless storytelling.
Cotillard plays Stephanie, a smart young woman who trains Orca whales in a marine park and one night she meets Ali (Schoenaerts), a bouncer at a nightclub who saves her from a brawl. A straightforward man who makes extra cash from bare-knuckle fighting, Ali clearly isn’t the sophisticated type that Stephanie hopes for, but when a catastrophic accident with one of the whales changes her life irrevocably, he’s the only person who treats her without pity. A strange and beautiful friendship slowly tightens itself around their difficult situations – Stephanie unemployable and lost, and Ali an aimless, emotionally frustrated drifter who is living with his young son at his sister’s house. Without the strange and intimate force they find in each other, these two people would, you feel, be doomed to a sad future.
There are certainly confronting moments to get through in the film, but the script (co-written by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain from a story by Canadian Craig Davidson) slowly pulls the fragmented worlds of the two main characters together, Audiard exploring the depths of their psychological and physical pain without sentimentality. The score from Alexandre Desplat (who more recently composed the music for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty) is sublime, and the cinematography from Stephane Fontaine (who also shot A Prophet) marked by a dreamlike quality with shallow depth of field, sparkling, washed-out highlights and unnerving darkness. Not to be missed for even the faint hearted.