At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, a small film called “The Artist” took the Croisette by storm, and steamrolled through the entire awards season seven months later. It made a Hollywood star out of its leads, none more so than Jean Dujardin, and the buzz this year has been whether another French film can do the same for its male lead.
That is, however, where all comparisons between the two films end, as Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” is worlds away from “The Artist’s” charm and sentimentality, instead hitting the audience hard where it hurts emotionally. A stark and beautiful film, focusing on the brutality and violence of life.
Following the lives of two very different people who due to circumstance meet and change each other irrevocably, “Rust and Bone” stars Marion Cotillard as Stephanie, a whale trainer who meets Ali, played by the outstanding Matthias Schoenaerts, in a nightclub where he helps break up a brawl she was involved in. Ali has just moved to the area, with a 5 year old son that he has only just met (played by Armand Verdure in his first feature role), and no money, friends, or prospects to speak of. When a tragic accident at work leads Stephanie to be confined to a wheelchair, she meets Ali again and together they come alive.
Audiard told reporters during the press conference that he “wanted to portray a love story full of light and space, and this is what happened.” Based on the short stories of Craig Davidson (although neither Ali nor Stephanie’s stories appears in the novel), Audiard’s film, which he also co-wrote along with Thomas Bidegain, is filled with melodrama and so many twists and turns that it can often times test the audience’s patience.
For Belgian actor Schoenaerts, he admitted to feeling nervous around his contemporaries. “I thought, there’s Jacques, there’s Marion, I’m never going to manage,” he said. “I’ll be useless.” But Schoenaerts needn’t have worried, as he and Cotillard bare themselves physically and emotionally during the course of the 120 minutes, taking the audience on a drama-filled journey that may be difficult to watch but is also exquisite to watch.