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Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)

Whales and fighting and other weird things – ★★★½

Rust and Bone is the latest offering from A Prophet director Jacques Audiard and deals with amongst other things – performing killer whales, bare-knuckle street fighting, worker surveillance practices, France’s custody and welfare policies and the emotional and physical issues encountered when you lose both legs. Crikey.

Everyone’s favourite mumbling soft-spoken Frenchie Marion Cotillard plays Stéphanie, an Antibes-based whale trainer who loses both legs in a tragic accident. She encounters Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) a drifting 25-year-old boxer who arrives in town to get his sister to help look after his young son while he searches for work. Their union is an unlikely one, but thanks to terrific performances from both leads we buy into the idea quite quickly with each of them giving the other what he or she needs most in life – Stéphanie to feel wanted and not treated like a cripple, with Ali looking for stability and structure.

It may take a while for audiences to settle into the picture as the tone is wildly inconsistent with some downright weird moments sprinkled throughout the film. The scene where Ali carries Stéphanie into the water as she swims for the first time since her accident are incredibly touching but some of the impact is lost by the presence of Cotillard’s bare breasts and CGI leg stumps. That certainly sounds like quite a crass statement but it is in those moments that remind you that Audiard occasionally misses the mark in an otherwise thoughtful and sensitive film which gives us a fair reflection of what it must be like to lose limbs.

| o | – Piggy-back time!

Matthias Schoenaerts will be the true breakout star of the film and gives a wonderful performance combining the raw intensity of Bronson-era Tom Hardy with the broodiness and continental charm of future Robocop Joel Kinnaman. Schoesnaerts already has some upcoming Hollywood projects, most notably starring opposite Cotillard, Clive Owen and Billy Crudup in  Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties, and is being filed in Spooool’s “ones to watch” column.

While the film may do its best to pull at your heartstrings, what’s in no doubt is Audiard’s ability to make us grimace. This is best shown in the organised fight scenes, heralding back to the violent tension that permeated throughout A Prophet. These bouts are often shown from the perspective of Stéphanie who watches from the car as her man rips a hole through another chump from the Côte d’Azur. On the subject of the setting, it’s worth noting that the film could probably have been filmed anywhere in Western Europe as, despite being set in one of the most beautiful cities on the Mediterranean, we’re rarely allowed to admire the scenery, instead dwelling on the edges of society where street fighting or security and supermarket jobs are the only way to break away from the poverty line.

Rust and Bone has quite a few things wrong with it and can be best described as a pretty weird film. But as the credits roll you will also feel like you’ve been treated to a big, important piece of work that has some of the year’s most memorable images and moments. It’s a trade-off that’s worth taking for a film that will live long in the memory. But we’re not going to go as far as to guarantee everyone will have a whale of a time…

France  /  Directed By: Jacques Audiard  /  Written By: Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain  /  Starring:  Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure  /  120min  /   Drama   /  Release: 2 November 2012 (UK/Ireland), 23 November 2012 (US/Canada)