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Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012)

September 25, 2012

Although I recognize the directorial skills of Jacques Audiard, there still isn’t any of his film that I really liked. It always seems to me that something’s missing, despite his great capacity behind the camera. De Rouille et D’Os is not a bad film, don’t get me wrong. But it’s one of those cases where a highly illogical and unmotivated ending ruins the entire film. I usually don’t care for coherent plots, nor I think that the narrative aspects is the most important thing in the organism of a movie. But Audiard’s film isn’t experimental, such as Post Tenebras Lux for example. In fact, it maintains a classic structure, and the plot is undoubtedly its main feature, so ignoring its fallacies would be a mistake. For the sake of your cinematic experience I won’t actually talk about the ending in detail, but I need to specify from where my disappointment comes from. As I said, the movie is not a bad one, in fact it’s quite the opposite. The main characters are portrayed by two of the best actors around, the screenplay is based on a more than solid source, a great director. All of this works fine, until the last ten minutes, but I won’t say more.

The film is loosely based on the short story collection Rust and Bone, by Canadian author Craig Davidson. Audiard takes just some elements from two of the many stories in the book and then develops his own story, so not much of Davidson’s work is present in the movie. There’s no real reason to confront the two products, since they share so little, but I think it’s still interesting to analyze the two. The book by Davidson is probably one of the best contemporary short fiction book that came out in these years. His writing is raw and direct. Most of the characters are losers, rejects trapped in a nihilist world, where violence, both physical and psychological is the only way to communicate. Audiard takes a different approach. The atmosphere never gets too dark or nihilistic, and the tones are way lighter than the book, but some sort of crudeness remains, especially in the first part of the film. In Audiard there’s room for love, even if tormented and complicated, in Davidson there’s no such thing as love.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard are at the center of the film and they do a wonderful job together. The alchemy that arises between two anti-social characters is interesting and well developed: a self-destructing relationship among two people that don’t intend to change their personality, even for the sake of love.

Ali has a child, but no home. He seems to have no empathy for anyone, but not in a cruel or cynical way. He’s just incapable of caring about other people’s feelings. His life is built on violence, and with violence he can afford to survives, first as a bouncer at a club, where he meets Stéphanie, and later as a street fighter. Schoenaerst already proved to be a great actor in Rundskop (2011), in which he portrayed a similar character. He prefers to act with his body rather than his face, and despite his enormous, heavy physique, he manages to transmit the sensitive aspects of his character as well. Stéphanie remains mutilated after an incident, but she doesn’t want any help by other people, she wants to be self-sufficient in all the aspects of her life. Cotillard doesn’t need presentations, being internationally recognize by now as one of the most talented actresses around. Here she gives one of her best performances, thanks to a charismatic character that allows her to exploit her capacities.

The camera stays close to the characters, but never too much. There’s always room to back up a little and see things from a more detached point of view. It’s a film about bodies and the flesh and blood inside them. More than emotions or feelings, it’s the corporality the thing on which the camera focuses. Like animals, Ali and Stéphanie communicate better with their actions rather than with words. There’s more communication in a sex scene than in dialogues. Problems arise when there’s the attempt to rationalize their behavior. Despite the many laughs of the audience during the scenes in which the two characters discuss about their sexual relationship (I still don’t know who to blame, why full grown adults should always laugh at anything sexual portrayed on the screen?), it’s here that resides the tragedy.

Despite the great confidence with which Audiard films this story, the natural alchemy between two great actors and the well written screenplay, there is some uncertainties as the story progress. While the first part remains solid, the plot begins to feel repetitive after some time, while other aspects that are left behind could have been better explored, such as the relationship between Ali and his son, that gets lots of attention in the first half of the film but is later almost forgotten for the remaining time, just to pop up later in the ending. As said before, the final is the weakest part of the movie. It really seems hurried and badly put together and manages to ruin everything that was shown before, being it incoherent and not in the same vein as the rest of the movie. A missed chance, Audiard should have dared more, but he confirms his talent nonetheless, and still remains one of the most interesting French filmmakers. 

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