May 18, 2012

De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone)

If you think that romance should stem from meshing personalities and a loving spark, think again. Rust and Bone tells the story of a couple whose friendship is based on tragedy and recovery, of loss, and in the case of Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), pure, unadulterated apathy.

The film begins where another one should end, with Ali taking his young son Sam away from his mother, who had been trafficking drugs through the innocent boy. He’s just the type of stand-up guy any girl wants to take home to her parents – living on the streets, scavenging garbage for food, stealing cameras out of stores. He shows an initial affection for Sam in these beginning montages, but everything changes when he has his sister, (Corinne Masiero), take him in. She is a cashier in a grocery store, her husband is a truck driver. They can barely make ends meet and supplement their income by taking care of dogs.

Ali eventually takes on a series of odd jobs all related to his past as a boxer and kickboxer, and it is while on duty as a bouncer that he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), saving her from an abusive man and driving her home. We expect sparks to fly, but the only sparks that truly fly are the ones of anger from her eyes when he calls her a slut, showing off all them legs. They get back to her boyfriend, who is a huge ass, but learn that she is an orca trainer.

Her face lights up as we see her performing with the orcas to Katy Perry’s firework, until, one goes beserk and breaks the stand, bites off her legs, and leaves her to die. Except she’s Marion so she can’t die. Instead, she wakes up in the hospital to find herself legless and in a deep depression. Eventually, she finds herself calling Ali.

Over the course of the film, a relationship blossoms between the two. He has no shame in anything he does, talking about sex with random women, asking her if she wants to swim, etc., but it is only through his lack of shame that Stephanie begins to feel like a person again. He helps her find her liberation from her handicap, even as he takes on more as a fighter.

Yet, even as she finds herself able to return to her old life, her emotional attachment to Ali grows stronger, especially as they begin to sleep together. He continues his streak of indifference, becoming more detached from Sam to the point of abuse. He begins to fight more in order to gain money and helps set up spy cams with his partner for the management to spy on their employees.

Spoiler alert: Do not read the next two paragraphs if you intend to see the movie:

Eventually, Ali’s world takes a tumble as he finds out that his spy cams got his sister fired from work, and he is forced to leave. He flees without saying goodbye to anyone, leaving Sam behind. Here, the movie should have ended. His constant apathy and misdirected attempts to survive all led to this point. He is an emotionally unavailable man, and nothing matters to him.

Yet, director Jacques Audiard decides otherwise, opting to show some time pass, and Ali decides to train for a real match. Sam comes to visit him in what I assume was Belgium, only to fall through the ice in the most predictable, trite cop out I could have expected for such a film. He saves him and realizes he loves Stephanie and they all become a family and he becomes a famous boxer and blah blah blah. This was no fairy tale story, and there was no reason for a happily ever after.

The film is extremely well-acted, with Cotillard in particular able to show her emotional breadth while Schoenaerts also makes quite a splash. The supporting roles are also well-acted, with the sister in particular showing great emotional depth as she takes on the role of caretaker.

The film tends to evade many conventions of melodrama, if not only through the unlikeable Ali. His inability to commit hinders the budding romance and prevents the film from being overtly romantic. However, the ending truly detracted from the overall quality of the film, taking what was great and turning it to schlock.

The film is a valiant attempt at a drama – emotionally compelling, well-acted, a motivated plot, and beautifully shot in a very naturalistic, minimalistic manner (here in Cannes, no less). However, the juggling to Ali and Stephanie's separate plot lines in order to have them co-develop was inadequate, as only Stephanie actually develops as a character, while Ali’s development came as a sudden shock at the end.

I did enjoy the film and found it very powerful and moving. If I had walked out 15 minutes earlier, I would have found it fantastic, but instead, I can only give in a B+.

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