Review: Rust and Bone is not the killer combination
The talented, beautiful and seemingly ubiquitous Marion Cotillard stars alongside the brute force that is Mathias Schoenaerts in this alternative love story. Both lacking something in their lives, a chance meeting allows them to find each other for a journey that forces them to look to themselves for real fulfilment...
The film opens by introducing to us Ali (Mathias Schoenaerts) and his five-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure). On the way to live with Ali’s sister, father and son journey together, scavenging for food in any bin and corner to get by until they reach their destination. This pretty much sets he tone for the rest of the films which concentrates on all manner of struggles.
Even though, at first, it seems Ali is neutral enough he unravels as brash and blasé as the film progresses. He is not the typical father figure you’d expect to be looking after a young boy, and embodyies a kind of bum character; nothing special to him, all brawn and no brain and will do whatever job just to keep afloat. This also reflects in the relationship with his son; Ali’s love for Sam is no doubt there but in a disconnected way, lacking all paternal emotion and affection. In fact, he’s more interested in fighting and sex than he is his son.
Fittingly, he acquires a job as a bouncer and it’s on duty that he briefly gets to know Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) after saving her from a bar brawl. He learns that by day she is a killer whale trainer but by night turns into a bit of an animal herself when she hits the clubs, teasing men, with no intention of fulfilling their desires. The life she leads is a contrasting mixture of extremes; her work involves a natural serenity with the whales and communicating with them and it’s almost as if she compensates that peacefulness with the pumping bass line of a nightclub and the meat-market atmosphere of the crowd that it attracts.
Everything starts to erode away from Ali, although I suspect that his life was this way even before the journey to live with his sister, and this is just a continuation of a regular problem. He hurts his son, his sister loses her job because of an illegal job he set up, in turn losing his own too, he loses all of the little trust she has in him and she kicks him out – but there is no sympathy for him here. Ali’s misfortunes are self-inflicted, single-handedly achieved by him and him alone.
Meanwhile, Stéphanie is having serious problems of her own. A horrific accident at work has left her in a wheelchair and she has to come to terms with the huge impact this has on her life. To Stéphanie it means no more clubs, no more dancing, no more teasing men, no more swimming, no more life, no more nothing.
It’s then that she reaches out randomly to Ali with a number that he left her after their first meeting, and so the ‘love story’ develops.
Although together their situations should have fit like two pieces of a puzzle – her being physically dysfunctional and he amputated of all emotion for whatever unknown reason – I never really got any overwhelming feelings of empathy for either character. Stéphanie becomes attached to Ali because of his nonchalant attitude, not judging her by her appearance, and Ali responds to this by being able to feed his sexual hunger. It’s a working partnership.
This French alt romantic drama is a rummage through concepts of completion, trying to decide whether things would be achievable alone or with someone to fill the hole, even with hindered mind and hindered body. In this case, it takes a disaster for each of the protagonists to realise the preciousness of what they have. However, these significant events are almost redundant because of the many storylines going on at the same time.
Both Ali and Stéphanie’s lives are difficult in their own ways but the absence of consistency – whereby we can follow one, main storyline – misleads us to a jumble of open-endedness. Ali’s struggles – to be a father, to be a family man with his sister, to maintain a job – which then leads to his illegal fighting, and Stéphanie’s – her struggle to come to terms with her accident and the relationship that seems to be forming with Ali – all leave me struggling to follow what is going on and why. Nothing solid or convincing enough happens to both to tie them together apart from that chance meeting in the club.
The premise of Rust and Bone is good but, for me, the lack of story development lets this film down. Still, Schoenaerts does well in making me dislike his character; his rudeness and insensitivity come through well. And as Cotillard's Stéphanie slowly builds herself up to be a pillar of strength again, her full potential as a character seems like it’s about to peak but is then amputated.
Unfortunately, Rust and Bone lacks the kind of chemistry to spark something special even though it had the potential to be.
Rust and Bone hits UK cinemas Friday November 2nd 2012