Movie Review: Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone (2012)

In order to train a wild animal, you have to do two things: one, you establish trust with the animal and two, you show the animal that you are stronger than it. There is a scene in Rust and Bone (In French: De rouille et d'os) that demonstrates this beautifully. Ali is in the middle of a street fight, and he is taking quite a beating from his opponent. He is down for the count, and they are about to call the winner, when Stephanie steps out of the car that brought Ali to this fight. We see her artificial metal leg first, panning up to her face, strong and determined, beautiful and brave. The expression on her face is like metal, rusted but sturdy. Ali sees it, and all the sudden he is up again. Ali goes on to win his fight, inspired by this woman who he knows is stronger than he is.

In Rust and Bone (2012), we meet Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard). Ali is a disengaged man raising his son alone. He likes to fight for pay and looks for women willing to sleep with him. He treats his son like an inconvenience, and, currently, he is living with his sister while he works as a security guard. Stephanie, on the other hand, is an orca trainer and truly loves her job. On the weekends, she goes out clubbing. Stephanie and Ali meet the first time at a night club where Ali is working. He and Stephanie have a chance encounter that doesn't really impress either one of them.

Fate steps in, however, and in a horrible accident with the orcas, Stephanie loses her legs. She doesn't really have a support network, so out of desperation, finds Ali's number in her phone and reaches out to him.

For whatever reason he comes. He takes her swimming in the sea, and, maybe because he doesn't baby her, she enjoys his company. For Ali's part, maybe the's the first person to come to him for help instead of the other way around. They start talking about their dating status, and eventually start sleeping together, although it's not a romantic thing. Ali wants to help her see "if it still works."

Fate steps in again, and there are moments that pull these two apart and together, apart and together. This compelling story is brought to life through great performances, stunning visual imagery
and the chemistry between the two leads. Stephanie trains orcas for a living. She respects a beautiful beast. She sees Ali for what he is. He is a man with a body that can do damage. For Stephanie, Ali becomes her legs and a symbol of hope. Like one of her orcas, she appreciates what he can do and trains him to do it better.

For Ali's part, he learns to treat a woman differently because of Stephanie. Through her strength, Stephanie is able to change the dynamics of their relationship. At first, he treats her like a friend with benefits. After her initial shock of losing her legs, Stephanie stays home and feels sorry for herself. Ali doesn't pity her but encourages her to get out and appreciate life again. When he does cross a line with her, she confronts him but doesn't shun him. Their mutual respect is a key component of love, and she builds it, brick by brick, with Ali. I love how she overcomes her tragedy to become a new woman.

Very little of this story has to be told because it is shown so well. Their deepening connection shows through shared looks and body language. The director uses the camera to show us the light coming through the trees, the sun on Stephanie's skin she first goes outside, and the way her leg feels with her new tattoo on it. This is a very raw and real film that leaves an emotional punch. Ultimately, it's a  film about relationships that happen in unexpected places when life takes a turn.