Thursday, 28 March 2013


Hopscotch Films

Now Showing

After his critically acclaimed 2009 film, A Prophet, French director Jacques Audiard was always going to have a hard time impressing with his follow-up. For my money, he needn't have worried. A Prophet was one of my favourite films of 2009, and while Rust and Bone is a less epic affair -- and a different creature entirely -- I found it no less involving or affecting.

A Beauty and Beast tale set in the French seaside town of Antibes, Rust and Bone revolves around the unlikely relationship between Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stephanie, whose meet-cute isn't that cute at all: the one-time boxer and hulk of a man is working as a bouncer at a night club where Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) receives a bloodied nose.

Alain drives the inebriated Stephanie home, simultaneously flirting with her whilst admonishing her skimpy dress sense. There's a definite spark between the two but with Stephanie's boyfriend waiting at home, that would seem to be the end of that. Besides, Alain has to take care of his 5-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), which is ironic given Alain is much like a child himself: impatient, quick tempered and insensitive to most others' feelings.

Stephanie trains the orcas at the local aquarium but when she suffers an horrific accident at work, it is Alain whom she reaches out to. The last thing Stephanie wants is sympathy, and Alain, the kind of guy who would suggest you dress like a whore at the same time that he's both coming to your rescue and hitting on you, is the kind of guy you can count on not to look at you with pitiful eyes or treat you with kid gloves.

And indeed he seems oblivious to her predicament when they first meet after the accident ("I heard about it on the news"), and Stephanie and Alain become fast friends, with regular catch-ups and trips to the beach. And they eventually become lovers, initiated by Stephanie's queries about his sexual relations with other women and her own doubts about her sexual abilities, and which Alain is happy to allay. And it's not pity sex: Alain likes to fuck and Stephanie, two legs or none, is an attractive woman.

Stephanie also becomes Alain's mascot of sorts, accompanying him to the illegal street fights he competes in to make extra money. They're a study in contrasts, the hulking man-child and the metal-limbed lady; a classic Beauty and the Beast pairing.

It goes without saying that Cotillard is terrific in the role of a woman whose life and sense of self has been completely shattered but who finds a reservoir of strength and a new lease of life, both from within and with Alain.

Matthias Schoenaerts, on the other hand, is a revelation. Ruggedly handsome, the Belgian actor gives Alain a brutish charm that is both childlike and dangerous. By turns tough and tender, Schoenaerts is asked to do much of the heavy lifting as Alain endures successive ordeals. If Stephanie's is a journey of self discovery, Alain's is a baptism of fire, and both actors successfully skim the material's inherent melodrama without resorting to easy histrionics.

Fashioning together two separate stories from Craig Davidson's short story collection, Rust and Bone, Audiard (along with co-scribe, Thomas Bidegain) has delivered a romance about the redemptive and restorative power of love, albeit far more emotionally complex than that succinct description.

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