It’s rare that a film’s title so accurately captures not just its themes but its feel. Rust & Bone is a film about when the mechanisms of life have become worn down and dysfunctional and the harsh realities of life become painfully exposed.
Jacque Audiard, director of 2009’s A Prophet, takes an unrelentingly honest look at the lives of Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a whale-trainer who suffers a terrible accident at work and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) a down-on-his-luck father who is trying to make his way in the world of bare-knuckle boxing. There is none of the high-minded philosophy of what French cinema is caricatured as being nor the glossy moralistic facade of Hollywood Rom-Coms to be found here.
Stephanie and Ali are characters adrift and alone in modern society, looking only to satiate their immediate desires rather than find stability and happiness in the long-term. Audiard here could be said to play the role of God in that he makes awful things happen to his characters that they might get perspective on what is really important. The greater part of the film is played out between the time when Stephanie suffers her trauma and Ali suffers his making the tension between what Stephanie needs and what Ali is willing to give riveting and more truthful than what contemporary cinema audiences may be used to.
Audiard’s directorial philosophy is undoubtedly that of film as social mirror. Nobody in the West is currently making films so perceptively and candidly about modern society, and for this reason the familiarity of the characters onscreen is striking. By focusing on specific characters and events, the story feels as if it could have been transposed to Chicago, Manchester or Limerick and still have been the same basic film.
The film features several moments that of course are customary to the kind of story that is told, such as Stephanie’s depression after her accident and Ali’s occasional negligence of his son, but Audiard is aware of these things and it is a brave move to keep them in the film when they have become familiar tropes, and they work because of the quality of Cotillard and Schoenaerts.
Rust & Bone won’t appeal to everybody as films that try to represent life as it is are often labelled “depressing,” but one thing is almost certain: it’s the best film that will ever be made with Katy Perry’s Firework in its soundtrack. Watch the trailer now on MEG.ie.