Rust And Bone

REVIEW BY Willard Manus

RUST AND BONE, the new French film by Jacques (A Prophet) Audiard, has a remarkable pedigree. The screenplay, written by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, is based on a bunch of short stories by the American writer, Craig Davidson. What's unusual is that the film's two main characters do not appear in Davidson's stories; they were invented by the Frenchmen.

Stephanie (Marion Cotillard, who came to fame as Edith Piaf in 2007's La Vie En Rose) is a trainer at Marineland in the south of France. Her specialty is the care and feeding of the orca whales in captivity there. The power and brutality of these huge creatures are kept in check by Stephanie and her fellow trainers, but only up to a certain point. One mistake can lead to disaster, as she learns in a horrifying--and brilliantly shot--sequence in which her legs are bitten off at the knees by one of the "trained" orcas.

Now a double-amputee--her missing appendages are achieved by astounding CGI work--Stephanie is ready to give up on life.

In a series of parallel scenes we meet Ali (the hulking Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts), a down-and-out working-class guy with a five-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure). Penniless and homeless, he takes off with Sam for Antibes, where his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) lives. Grudgingly, Anna takes them and in provides for them as best she can.

Ali gets a job as a bouncer in a discoteque. That's where he meets Stephanie, after coming to her aid in a brawl. This is pre-Marineland-accident, of course. He drives the bloodied and dazed Stephanie home.

Blood and violence are the central metaphors in this tough, edgily realistic film. Ali, to make extra money, agrees to take part in X-treme boxing matches, which are fought late at night in secret locations in bare-knuckle, winner-take-all fashion. It's life in the raw, about as pitiless and primeval as it can be.

Harsh as the world of RUST AND BONE is, the two angry, wounded protagonists, Stephanie and Ali, manage to hook up and form something of a relationship. At first it's is purely physical, with sex the driving force; but over time, against all odds (her disability, France's ferocious class warfare, plus an accident that befalls Sam), their feelings begin to deepen. They grow as people and become something of a couple.

RUST AND BONE is a modern-day love story, then, one that takes place in a dark, violent, often surreal world. Love seems a miracle--but it's to the film's credit that it makes us believe in it.