RUST AND BONE



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Rust and Bone is a meet cute story about a double amputee who has a romance with a mixed martial arts fighter and they change each other (I know, I know, it sounds like a logline for a high concept film that any devotee of Save the Cat would be salivating over—but believe me, it’s far too original and fresh to be mentioned in the same sentence as that book, which I guess I’ve already done—shoot). 
I suppose one might describe it as the distaff version of The Intouchables, the movie about the privileged white quadriplegic who hires a minority to help him and they change each other.  But perhaps it would be better to compare it to The Sessions, the comedy about the guy in the iron lung who wants to lose his virginity so he hires a sex surrogate and they change each other (are you sensing a leit motif here?).  That might be a slightly better fit because, whereas The Intouchables is safe, cuddly and as formulaic as a teddy bear (and proved that the French are just as able to create middle brow entertainment as the Americans–The Help, anyone?), The Sessions uses its edgy and dark humor to hide a bitterness and anger at the way God has set up the world which, believe me, is much closer to the style and attitude of Rust and Bone.
Rust and Bone is written by Jacques Audiard (who also directed) and Thomas Bidegain (Craig Davidson wrote the story).  Both are rising stars in France.  Audiard is also known for The Beat that My Heart Skipped (the far superior remake of James Toback’s Fingers) and The Prophet (about the rise of a young Arab man from fresh prison meat to the head of organized crime—a remarkable film also co-written by Bidegain).   Bidegain most recently co-wrote the movie Our Children which has the same actors as in A Prophet.
The leads in Rust and Bone are Stephanie, played by Marion (La Vie en Rose) Cotillard, as a trainer at an aquarium who loses her legs after a platform collapses and sends her into a tank of killer whales, and  Alain, Matthais (Bullhead) Schoenarts, as the fighter who tends to work on instinct without fully understanding how his actions affect other people (so animal instinct is he, that when Cotillard mentions that she is not sure she is able to be sexually responsive, Schoenarts casually asks if she wants to “fuck” to see; he’s not being flirtatious, he’s not being coy; he’s flat out asking in as practical and everyday manner as one could; I suppose one should be repulsed, but instead, one is more often won over by his attitude than not).   Cotillard brings those Bette Davis/Jeanne Moreau eyes of hers to the proceedings and one can’t help but melt when you see them.  Schoenarts brings the same bullheadness he brought to Bullhead.  They have a quite palpable chemistry between them.    Whatever else you may think of the film, you can’t deny the intensity of their scenes together. 
The, it  has to be admitted, somewhat manipulative plot is one of those that tends to constantly change directions and take off on odd forks in the road, yet is never unbelievable or dramatically unsatisfying.  It makes sense in all its chutes and ladders configurations.  The story is basically a converging of two popular fairy tales.  On one hand, we have Beauty and the Beast with Stephanie as the beauty who tames Alain’s beast and helps him realize that he can care for others and doesn’t have to act on his bestial nature.  The other is The Little Mermaid in which a woman gains her legs because of her love for a prince.  I’m not sure that either one of them have quite been told the way they have here, but in the end, the story reaches an emotional depth that’s not easy to shake off.
What Audiard and Bidegain do here is bring a beauty to all the ugliness that is taking place.  No matter how unpleasant the world of Stephanie and Alain gets, the filmmakers reveal that underneath it all there’s something more going on.  This is a story about two people who have had awful things happen to them or even do awful things, but both have souls that defy the situation.  This is a world that is a challenge to exist in, that is not often sympathetic to those who live in it, yet people can come together and create something more from it.  It’s not always an easy film to watch, but it is a moving and rewarding one.
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