Saturday, 30 March 2013
Rust and Bone (2012, Jacques Audiard)
As uneven as it is unconventional, this love story of two damaged souls finding strength in one another feels like new ground for its director, despite its retreading of past themes.
After delivering his finest film to date with A Prophet - a sprawling and transcendent crime-thriller that won the Grand Prix at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival - expectations were set higher than usual for Jacques Audiard to deliver another tremendous piece of cinema, something he's yet to fail in doing. Following the relationship between a nomadic kickboxing single father (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a recently paralysed Killer Whale trainer (Marion Cotillard), Rust and Bone is a mixed bag of results that remains genuine throughout, never failing to evoke the overwhelming emotions needed to drive the story along.
Alain (Schoenaerts) is a typical protagonist for Audiard; introduced feeding himself and his young son scraps from the tables of others while occupying a train, the two are between homes, Alain between jobs. He finds pay working nights as security guard and eventually through his background in fighting gets drawn into the world of illegal fighting gigs. Sleeping on his sister's sofa he has one foot in a repetitive ( yet legit) societal construct yet the other in the underworld. His eventual meeting with Stéphanie (Cotillard), a woman now wheelchair-bound after a recent accident with the very animal she lived to train, soon becomes a fascinating relationship of empowerment and frustration.
Audiard and co-writer Thomas Bidegain use this fateful meeting to usher the dynamic of two contrasting personalities as they find solace and pain in one another. The power is often in the court of Alain, whose obliviousness and emotional aloofness gives him an invincibility of sorts while the more 'aware' of the two, Stéphanie, at first finds strength in her lovers indifferent attitude towards her disability before growing to resent it as her love out matures his. This switching dynamic never fails to spark intrigue in its wavering nature and ambiguity, most notably in Stéphanie's almost fetishistic feeding off Alain's fighting physicality as a surrogate for her own loss, an interesting notion merely hinted at.
For all the raw emotional ferocity and catharsis so wonderfully displayed it can't be helped but feel that Audiard took on more than he could handle. His cinema has always walked a thin line (like his central males so often do) between the anthropological approach of the Dardenne brothers and the explosive visceral machismo of Martin Scorsese. Here, for the first time since 2001's Read My Lips (a film thematically echoed here) have the results been so uneven, with too many aspects being juggled and left ultimately in the air. At points the film doesn't seem sure what direction to take, most evident in a unnecessary plot involving Alain's participation in illegal hidden surveillance in the work place. At this point the film ventures into societal ethics and of economic repercussions that although marls a shift in narrative feels awkwardly contrived next to the stark realism of the piece so far.
Rust and Bone is from start to finish an example of great filmmaking without being a great film in itself, and within it are many great stories that end up unrealised. Despite a sense of confusion at its core, the film's central relationship between Alain and Stéphanie acts as anchor to a film destined to trail off. The performances are spectacular throughout; Schoenaerts excels in making the oblivious brute of Alain an endearing character capable of growing personably as well as in stature. Marion Cotillard reminds just how talented she is after a recent strand of disappointing performances in the US. In her native tongue she is unrivalled as a performer, it just seems that many American directors can't bring out what is so clearly there for the taking. Audiard also shows growth as a director, with this being his most visually developed film to date and one which seems to embrace visual storytelling and musical possibilities more than any of his other films. Alexandre Desplat's score is used with more gusto than before and an unforgettable use of Katy Perry's 'Firework' marks a more adventurous and unconscious choice from one of world cinema's most exciting auteurs.