Marion Cotillard stars as Stephanie, an Orca trainer who is undergoing a period of intense crisis in her life, and Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali, a young father who has brought his five-year-old son to live with his sister and her husband, and lacks ambitions other than boxing and fighting. The two make an unlikely pair, brought together by chance, and drawn to some distinct commonality between the two. Much of the film exists in a space that is entirely lacking in pride, where Ali has existed for some time, worn down by the harsh realities of life, and yet is new to Stephanie. People with nothing to lose behave very differently from the rest of the world, and it is here that director Jacques Audiard sets the film.
The film is obsessed with the idea of limited capacity, with a decrease in the range of motion in both mental and physical realms. Fans of Audiard’s other work, (A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) are likely to love this foray into grief and loss, and to say too much of the plot would be a disservice as the story has a great deal of power. I will say the special effects are jaw-dropping, and the film is brutal at times, very bloody fighting sequences and a desperate sense that these characters are simply attempting to survive. There’s a few things that may disturb, including the rather violent boxing scenes, and the somewhat graphic sex scenes in the film are entirely lacking in tender moments. Rarely does sex in films actually feel necessary and important, but here it works tirelessly, informing the characters and their world.
Cotillard’s performance elevates this French-language film tremendously, taking what may have been a seemingly unnecessarily complicated film and bringing it onto a human level. She’s not surrounded by beautiful clothing or gallons of make up, and when speaking her native tongue is far more moving and engaging than in her English-language performances to date. Schoenaerts is all brute force and simple minded decisions in his portrayal of Ali, an uncomplicated man existing in a world with no expectations for him. People need expectations placed on them, even if it’s simply that others believe we can succeed in the world.
We like to believe we can trick the world, that we can pretend to care so little that perhaps we won’t be hurt again by the people and places we cared about once. People and places that broke our hearts. Something gets broken inside of us when we simply survive in the world instead of thriving, though. We start to miss out, as we begin to act from a place of survival, focusing our world smaller and smaller and what was once an act becomes our standard behavior, until we simply eat, sleep, and wait for the day to be over. Other people pay the price as we slumber through our existence, wretched and ungrateful for what we’ve been given.
While not a perfect film by any means, Rust and Bone is an invitation to come back into the world, a hand held out and a voice reminding us ever so sweetly that even if we have lost so very much, ultimately there is still more that we can lose.