Hoping to start a new life, Belgian drifter Ali (Schoenaerts) takes his young son to the South of France to live with his sister. Getting a job as a bouncer, he meets killer-whale trainer Stéphanie (Cotillard), who then suffers a truly horrible accident. As Ali neglects his son and forges a side career as a bare-knuckle fighter, a tender bond grows between him and Stéphanie…
A tender study of two people broken in different ways, Rust And Bone is perhaps a slight change of pace for acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard after his searing prison-set crime thriller A Prophet. Yes, there’s liberal amounts of bare-knuckle fighting and naked nookie, but this is primarily a soulful relationship drama which is gentle, powerful and, on occasion, genuinely shattering. Beautifully made and littered with moving, transcendent moments (such as Stéphanie interacting with a killer whale through glass), it’s an arthouse movie which might offer something to multiplex viewers. Well, those who are open-minded and patient enough to get past the slightly sluggish start, that is.
Arguably longer that it needs to be, Rust And Bone is also inescapably bleak. Like recent crowd-pleaser Untouchable, we’ve got a bond forming between a disabled individual and an aimless, street-smart thug who doesn’t treat them with pity. But while that was the feelgood version, this is the feelbad. Still, as mentioned there are a few beautiful moments throughout (Audiard even manages to make Katy Perry meaningful), while the CGI used to render Stéphanie’s situation is flawless and the performances are definitely trophy worthy. Being critical, Matthias Schoenaerts’ Ali isn’t always a particularly sympathetic character, but both he and Marion Cotillard are outstanding as the two damaged souls (Cotillard especially).
Inescapably, it’s rather bleak and sobering, but Rust And Bone is a powerful and beautifully-made drama with moments of real transcendence. Expect it to be involved come awards season.