Lost and Found

3 minute read
Mary Pols

In French writer-director Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a scrounger and a scrapper. On a train, he forages lunch for himself and his son from other passengers’ trash. He scrapes together a living as a bouncer and security guard and from street-fighting tournaments. He’s as instinctive with physical force as he is in hustling for room and board. At one point, he drops his kid on his head. His sister is outraged. “He’s not dead,” Ali tells her. Nice guy.

Ali is also a survivor. Maybe that’s why Stphanie (Marion Cotillard) calls him after she loses her legs in a freak accident at her job, training orcas at Marineland. They’ve met only once before, when he rescued her from a bar brawl. Stphanie feels like an animal, especially when she’s reduced to crawling; Ali behaves like an animal. It’s kismet. He takes her to the beach and suggests she swim, but not because he cares or thinks it might be therapeutic (though it is). It’s more like when you open the door for the dog.

A cautious relationship evolves from there. Having never lost my legs to trained orcas, who am I to judge Stphanie’s romantic choices? Or any of the choices she and Ali make? The seedily sentimental Rust and Bone should be judged on its merits, not on the behavior of its characters. (Did I mention that at one point Ali kicks a dog?) Schoenaerts embodies callous brutality so convincingly that he’s effectively locked into character; any positive transformation is going to be tough to sell. Cotillard projects both a damaged sensuality and an inner strength; she will likely be an Oscar nominee again (she won for 2007’s La Vie en Rose).

The work to give Cotillard the appearance of being a double amputee is flawless, courtesy of digital magic and the actress’s persuasive physical performance. But I never forgot I was watching an able actress. Perhaps Cotillard has become too familiar in face and form, and certainly Audiard telegraphs the significance of first the legs and then the nonlegs too forcefully; for instance, when we meet Stphanie, the camera finds her feet, then travels upward. Audiard’s earlier films (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet) dealt with hardened characters butting heads with relative innocents, but none of them felt as pushy or manipulative as Rust and Bone. This story of healing feels like a wound. (In select theaters now)

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