After wowing audiences with supporting turns in Hollywood blockbusters such as “Contagion” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” Marion Cotillard returns to her French roots via “Rust and Bone,” from “A Prophet” director Jacques Audiard.
As the aloof but ravishing Stephanie, Cotillard painfully portrays a young whale trainer whose life is altered in a horrifying accident that costs her her legs. This is by no means your run-of-the-mill, inspirational disability flick that punches up the motivational tunes each time the protagonist overcomes a new obstacle, but rather a startling portrait of a woman trying to regain a sense of normalcy in the wake of tragedy.
Her support system and love interest comes in the form of Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), a gruff, burly drifter who drags his young son along with him as he hops from odd job to odd job. A boxer and a womanizer, Alain sets his sights no further than each one-night stand and arrives on his sister’s doorstep at the beginning of the film with little money and a mysterious past.
He is an intriguing character but an unlikeable one, nonetheless, which makes the relationship between him and Stephanie frustrating to watch. Alain is dismissive; verging on cruel to Stephanie the entire movie, and not to mention beats his son and causes his sister to lose her job. It is a strong performance by Schoenaerts, but by the time Alain softens up in the last 10 minutes, it is nearly impossible to feel anything but malice toward him.
With a remarkable plot that takes some time to gain momentum, the film offers an unusual but refreshing look at someone learning to live disabled. In the most devastating sequence, Stephanie wakes up to discover that her feet and calves have been amputated – providing a heartbreaking opportunity for Cotillard to stretch her acting muscles and prove that some of the most powerful moments are those without dialogue.
Instead of focusing on her physical recovery, Audiard chooses to show how Stephanie handles the once-effortless pursuits she took for granted before the accident: swimming in the ocean, going to the club, and most notably, having sex. Using CGI to remove the bottom halves of Cotillard’s legs, it is particularly intriguing to see how Stephanie and Alain’s attitudes toward intercourse shift under these circumstances: Does he need to be more delicate? Should she appear undaunted in the face of pain so he treats her as he would any other woman?
These are aspects that are almost easy to forget about when considering the disabled, but in turn are very real concerns in their lives – after all, these are just normal people struggling with unfortunate life circumstances, and 2012 films like this, “The Sessions” and “Amour” have all masterfully depicted such delicate situations.
“Rust and Bone” is anchored by Cotillard’s tour-de-force performance, which would likely garner her a second Best Actress statuette (following “La Vie En Rose”) in a weaker year. Her performance is agonizing and stirring; perfectly conveying the weariness, hopelessness, fury and courage that such a character demands. Stephanie is looking for someone she can depend on in a man with contrary, self-interested expectations, which proves to be one of the most upsetting facets of this movie.
One of the most delightful surprises, though, was the film’s soundtrack, which includes the likes of Katy Perry, Bon Iver, Lykke Li and Bruce Springsteen. Not what you’d typically expect from stuffy, art-house fair, right? It seems like such blatantly American music might stand out like a sore thumb, but it really is quite effective and poignant at times. At the very least, you’ll never think of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” the same again.
Overall, “Rust and Bone” is not Audiard’s strongest piece of work, but is still an impressive, satisfying film to end the year in foreign cinema, and features one dynamite performance from the always-reliable Cotillard.