Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) (London Film Festival review)

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Rust and Bone yellow light Matthias Schoenaerts Marion Cotillard

I’m “biast” (pro): love Marion Cotillard

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

He’s a nightclub bouncer and doer of slightly shady odd jobs. She’s an orca trainer at a theme-park aquarium whose life is changed forever by a terrible accident. As romances go, it’s not exactly a match made in heaven, and it’s barely even romantic, more a pragmatic clinging together for creature comfort in the darkness than anything approaching a grand passion. The rather depressingly realistic approach to adult relationships is, perhaps ironically, the best reason to see this hard-edged drama: the always watchable Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises) and handsome newcomer Matthias Schoenaerts are already intriguingly grim and gritty as the film opens, even before fate starts throwing personal disasters their way. And therein is borne the disappointments of the film. While it offers an unexpected look at a side of France that we do not typically see on film — this is no dreamy tourist’s fantasy but a peek into the lives of the working class — it piles on grottiness and misery to a point beyond which it gets absurd. Hunger among the workers of France and their families is one narrative thread that stings; how fatcat employers go out of their way to find reasons to fire low-wage employees is another. If director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet (Un prophète)) — adapting a series of short stories by Canadian writer Craig Davidson [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — had left it at that… But he doesn’t. The overarching theme of “Everyone is doing what they can to survive” gets extra wallops with motifs of endemic emotional depression driving mating strategies, muddled themes of captivity shrinking personal options — in one iteration of that, his young son, who has been traumatized by almost everything in life, likes to hide out in a doghouse — and ultimately, finally, one preposterous tragedy too many. It’s too all-over-the-place, too intent on cramming as much wretchedness as possible in two hours. Spread over an entire season of EastEnders, it’d be too much. Crammed into a single movie, it’s exhausting, and in no way that is even remotely plausible. Still: Marion Cotillard is a goddess, doubly proven here when she can eschew glamour and still be divine.

viewed during the 56th BFI London Film Festival

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