At first sight, it appears that Rust and Bone, the newest offbeat drama from French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (The Prophet, The Beat that My Heart Skipped) is going to be about Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a fellow who has left home, his young son in tow, and is looking for a new life.
But when he lands a job as a bouncer at a club, and helps out slinky and mysterious Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), who’s been bloodied in a fight, it looks like it’ll be about her.
We go back and forth for a bit, looking at Ali’s possibly shady life, checking in with Stephanie at her day job where she trains orcas at a Seaworld-like place.
It takes a horrific accident — in which, very early in the film, she loses both of her legs — to bring them together again, making it an atypical story of opposites attracting, and a study of two people going through very big, totally unexpected changes.
Ali is a good father, but he’s also so carefree that some would refer to him as a cad. Stephanie lives with another man, but we don’t know if he’s her lover or her pimp. None of that matters. We just want to know how things will work out between them.
Yet the script keeps presenting them on their own. He keeps changing jobs, spars in a gym after hours and picks up women whenever he can. She wakes up in a hospital, realizes what has happened to her and gets lost in a spiral of misery.
Two opposites: he’s incredibly positive, she’s become completely negative. Fortunately, this is the kind of story where his outlook on life is contagious. “I won’t go out! I don’t want anyone to see me!” she screams at him when he visits her. But he gets her to. In fact, he treats her as if there’s nothing wrong. And she has no idea how to react.
This being a French film, things turn sexual, and the sexuality becomes casual, then erotic. Though the mood of the film lightens considerably — she gets prosthetic legs — their understanding of each other never becomes clear to either of them. But rather than exploring that further, and turning it into a more meaningful love story, the script tacks on an accident, nowhere as severe as the bookended one at the beginning, to bring everything full circle. It’s too bad that, instead, it leaves things unresolved.