Mar. 13, 2013 - Issue #908: In Your Face
Rust and Bone
The look of the film is stunning. Opening shots resemble scuffed-up Polaroids. Askance angles slip us into dog pens or next to long-haul trucks. Twice the camera floats us underwater, into swirls of nightmare. And through much of the film, the relentless sun's glare slashes in on France's Mediterranean coast. It's Antibes, where Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) has come with his son (Armand Verdure). They stay with Ali's sister (Corinne Masiero) but, one day, working as a bouncer, Ali meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard). She works with orcas at a marine park until, one fateful afternoon, she loses her legs to a whale. Ali and Stéphanie reconnect, with his matter-of-fact attitude pushing her on—minutes after they reunite, he's casually hitting the beach for a swim as she looks on from her wheelchair. Soon, she's asserting herself again and attending his underground street-fights. But both of them are near-inscrutable, self-preserving battlers.
The weight and shape of the film, though, is unwieldy. Ali's and Stéphanie's backgrounds are unclear, their previous friendships murky. Events don't define them so much as unfold around them—their reactions, thoughts and feelings, even for each other, are opaque. What Audiard's trying to pull off—two people numbed by the physical (one by being all body all the time, the other from losing limbs) who finally crack for each other—is admirable, at times visceral in its wrestling with the body's repressions and urges, but it's not substantial. Flashes of Rust and Bone seem like art-film images made for academic discussion—of performativity, disability, surveillance, masculinity—but can't flare into a steady brilliance. Fade outs and time jumps imply a gathering of stories and episodes more than a sustained narrative. The film's flecks of rust and shards of bone are gritty, pretty bits of poetry, littering the screen, but they don't amount to quite enough.
Opens Opens Friday
Directed by: Jacques Audiard
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