Friday 12 October 2012

London Film Festival Review: Rust and Bone (dir. Audiard)

For all the widespread acclaim that they’ve received, the portentous macho melodramas of Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, A Prophet) have always seemed to me to add up to less than the sum of their parts. The director’s latest work, Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os), is at once his silliest and - in terms of narrative cohesion - his most streamlined effort yet, an inimitably calculating combination of the sadistic and the soppy. Adapted by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain from short stories by the Canadian writer Craig Davidson, Rust and Bone focuses on the relationship that develops between Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) - a burly bruiser with a young son (Armand Verdure) - and Stéphanie (Marion Cottilard), a killer whale trainer at the Marineland amusement park. The pair first meet due to a fracas at a nightclub where Ali is a bouncer, but their relationship doesn’t progress far. Until, that is, Stéphanie, ends up getting both of her legs bitten off by a whale during one of her performances and, despairing, isolated and angry, ends up calling upon the strapping Ali for aid. (Let's pause to spare a thought for the whale here, too: a daily routine of performing tricks to Katy Perry songs is surely enough to make anyone a mite snappish.)

As a slice of rather shameless hokum, Rust and Bone is moderately enjoyable. Yet one senses that Audiard has somewhat loftier ambitions for this film, which seems to aspire to be a tough-yet-tender portrait of a truly redemptive romance. (The clue: Bon Iver songs used for added sensitivity on the soundtrack.) Unfortunately, Stéphanie and Ali’s relationship is conceived by Audiard in such basic terms that the movie mostly seems a fulfillment of pulpy primal fantasies. Vicious fight scenes (which continue this director’s habitual fetishising of battered male bodies) are interspersed with cutesy father-son bonding moments, and Stéphanie and Ali's connection is developed very crudely. In one particularly awful sequence, Stéphanie seems to will Ali to victory in a fight simply by standing and gazing at him, and, earlier, the couple’s first no-strings sex session proves so inspirational for Stéphanie that it prompts her to head straight back to the Marineland park and re-connect with her orca chums. Free willy indeed.

With a climax involving a painfully contrived and unconvincing rescue sequence, Rust and Bone gets worse as it goes along, but it does have some compensatory aspects. Stephane Fontaine’s cinematography has an edgy vibrancy throughout and Audiard at least draws solid performances from his two lead actors. (As Ali’s son, Sam, talented young Armand Verdure is also worthy of note.) Trash masquerading, the movie is, for me, no more or less objectionable than the director’s earlier efforts. There’s just one appropriate word for it, perhaps: Audi-ous.


  1. You seriously suck as "critic"! This movie is breathtaking and beautiful and Marion Cotillard give a lifetime performance. You clearly have no clue about what is a good movie! Hater

  2. Great review. I'm seeing this in a couple of weeks.

  3. I'm afraid that MK is spot on, Alex. Don't quit the day job.

  4. Thanks for the advice, which I'm afraid I won't be taking. I know Audiard seems to have convinced an awful lot of people that this is beautiful, profound, Serious Cinema but I'm fully convinced (and not alone in thinking) that it's a load of tacky, shameless old hokum, and, in certain sequences, pretty offensive. Each to his/her own, I guess.