"Rust and Bone"(France, 2012) is a film imbued in shades of blue and rusty browns and references to water. Water is the place where the vacant life of Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) drastically changes. Water is where Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) takes her to bring her back to life. And icy cold water is where Ali is forced to learn about what matters.
In the beginning, Ali and Stephanie lead separate lives, Ali is living at his sister's house with his son (Armand Verdure), who recently became his responsibility after the boy was used as a drug mule by the mother. Stephanie works at a marine park as a whale trainer. Their paths cross one evening when Stephanie is beaten up at a club where Ali works as a bouncer. She is drunk, so he decides to drive her home. There is no spark. He tells her she dresses like a whore. She reluctantly lets him into her apartment so he can put ice on his bruises, raising suspicions of her bully of a boyfriend.
After a damaging accident, Stephanie sits home alone, day after day, depressed. One day, though, she phones Ali and he visits her. One wonders why this self-absorbed coarse man troubles himself to see her, other than perhaps curiosity about her accident, which made local news. He convinces her to leave her apartment, and introduces her to her first experience of freedom since the accident, a swim in the ocean. Suggested by this scene is that in their relationship there just might be the seeds of healing.
Their relationship becomes casually sexual, but Stephanie cautions against acting like animals. They fight. They come back together. One night, Ali takes her back to the club where they met. She longingly looks at the dancers. Ali gets up to dance with one of them. In scenes such as these, Cotillard's face shows a wide range of thoughts and emotions without words. Ali leaves the club with the woman, telling Stephanie to get a ride.
The story does not go in predictable directions. Stephanie watches Ali earning money in vicious street fights. One expects her to be appalled, unwilling to even watch. Instead, she is intrigued by the brutal fighting. She watches with some excitement as Ali risks life and limb much as she did, perhaps unknowingly, in her life as a whale trainer. The use of Springsteen's "Mr. State Trooper" in one scene is a perfect match of image and sound.
Light, dark, shadows, and partial close-ups on faces, skin textures and blood are used effectively by director Jacques Audiard. We can almost feel the sweat in the fight and sex scenes, the refreshing cleansing of the ocean water in the swimming scene, and the horrifying freezing temperatures of the icy pond water. "Rust and Bone," in the end, may be a fairy tale or myth about broken bones that never fully heal but lead to some sort of wisdom. The outstanding acting and direction place it in the "must see" category as a compelling film. Some may find the ending contrived, but within this mythology, it works.
The film is screening in Portland exclusively at the Regal Fox Tower 10 in downtown Portland.