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The agony & ecstasy of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone - Rust and Bone Review

Thursday, October 11, 2012 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

I should start by saying I love Jacques Audiard’s work. Each of his pieces is consistently fresh and original. His last film A Prophet won Best Film the London Film Festival 2009, rocketed him into the public’s eye and gave him international acclaim, many have been eagerly awaiting his next film Rust and Bone and I am one of them.

Rust and Bone Poster / De rouille et d'os Poster
Rust and Bone Poster / De rouille et d'os Poster

Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard, acclaimed director of A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped, returns with this powerful, tender romantic drama about two people from very different worlds seeking redemption in each other.

Marion Cotillard(La Vie En Rose, Inception) stars as Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who late one night meets Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts, Bullhead) in a fracas at the nightclub where he works as a bouncer. Put in charge of his young son, Alain has come from Belgium to Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Alain’s bond with Stephanie grows deeper after she suffers a horrible accident, bringing the two together once more.

This should not really be considered a full review, rather some thoughts as it is still too early to give an in depth analysis of Rust and Bone without spoiling it for others and I really want to see it again.

Touching on similar themes as his earlier films, especially; Read My Lips, Rust and Bone is deeper, more subtle and more brutal. At its heart it is a deeply moving story of experiences, how they sometimes affect or damage us. To tell his story Audiard gives us two extreme examples of humanity, each affected in tragic ways, yet almost polar opposites of each other, we follow them on their intersected journey as they deal with the consequences of their experiences and try heal.


Audiard continues his knack of working with great talent and this time he has collaborated with Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts to bring; his, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson's modern tale of star crossed lovers to the screen. Less accessible than his recent hit A Prophet, Rust and Bone operates on a much more subtle and less crowd pleasing level, but very much in theme with Audiard’s continued exploration of people, relationships, pressure, choices and how they all connect in life.

On the one side we have Stéphanie played by Marion Cotillard on the surface a seemingly well adjusted Orca trainer at the local sea world. Stéphanie is possibly the most interesting character as she is living what many consider a dream, yet she is not fulfilled and then events, take an ever darker turn for her as the animal she loves breaks her (Bone) physically.

Marion Cotillard as Stéphanie in Rust and Bone
Marion Cotillard as Stéphanie in Rust and Bone

On the other side we have a brutish Alain van Versch played with subtlety by Matthias Schoenaerts, Alain is a husk, a ghost of man rusted by a life of hardship. He has fallen into a cycle of violence, which is his only escape, slight misogyny and abusive behaviour he is unable to communicate or forge deep connections with those around him and like many thick skinned people he has come to be slightly quicker with his hands than his mind. Everything about Alain points to a lack of empathy and stunted growth even through to juvenilely coded his vocabulary. But with Stéphanie he is a better man.

Schoenaerts's performance is scarily realistic as a tragic man trapped in seedy night time activities with seemingly no way of escaping or breaking the cycle. This is all compounded when he has to take care of his young son, never having had any real, or wanting, responsibilities he cannot engage, or cope with his incredibly vulnerable (and scene stealing) son Sam (Armand Verdure).

Alain van Versch Rust and Bone
Matthias Schoenaerts as Alain van Versch in Rust and Bone
Stéphanie and Alain ;meet and despite Alain’s blunt shallowness and completely selfish behaviour, Stéphanie is not repulsed, seems to be a little attracted, and empowered by his protective, take control attitude (a theme that continues throughout the film and in one of my favourite scenes their roles are almost reversed to moving effect as Stéphanie empowers Alain) - Stéphanie possibly sees something under the surface of his thick skin.

After her debilitating accident their bond grows and they slowly become more entwined in each lives, under the shadow that after the animal she loves broke her physically and another one continues to push her already fragile mental state to breaking point.

Matthias Schoenaerts & Marion Cotillard Rust and Bone
Matthias Schoenaerts & Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone
From the outset we are never sure whose story it is, or if it is a shared story and that is part of the subtle riddle of Rust and Bone as the story seems to be seen through the eyes of one of the characters and almost entirely shot in a style that emulates their stunted mind set, their inability to see the beauty around them, or quite connect with the people past the surface leaves the the bulk of the film bleak and dry, simulating their straightforward, blunt, muted and unsophisticated view of the world.This adds a layer of sadness to the film as we see the world through their disconnected, eyes that cannot see past the surface and inversely we can't quite gauge their thoughts or motivations past their physical actions.

Matthias Schoenaerts Rust and Bone
Matthias Schoenaerts as Alain van Versch in Rust and Bone
This makes the moments we see beyond their vision, all the more poignant in a similar way to the power brought by the incredibly tender moments when Alain uncharacteristically bonds with his son. You can't help but hope that he elevates himself from this life but invariably know that tragedy lurks behind every corner in the worlds Audiard creates.

The symbolism of having to look deeper or break through the surface to see and accept the world around them permeates Rust and Bone. The down side to this is steeped in irony as some, like Matthias Schoenaerts's Alain may struggle to see past the surface.


Whilst Rust and Bone certainly maintains much of Audiard’s engaging crisp aesthetics and expectations may be raised from the popularity of A Prophet those expecting a film dripping in Hollywood’s manufactured aesthetics and crowd pleasing machinations may not engage with the subtlety of a straight forward, no cliché tale of two lives intersecting and their real world problems. Audiard continues to keep his films fresh, different and doesn’t have to rehash his own or anyone elses tricks - as Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone is fiercely original.

And whilst Rust and Bone is a subtle, well acted slow meandering study of life and a timeless story I feel it may work better as a two parter giving the audience a break to reflect on what is happening and has happened and I already can’t wait for the home release to immerse myself in Rust and Bone again.

I found Director’s Notes for Rust and Bone and thought I would add them a they offer further insight into the world of Rust and Bone that we see in on screen and somewhat ties into my thoughts above.

Rust and Bone Director’s Notes
There is something gripping about Craig Davidson’s short story collection “Rust and Bone”, a depiction of a dodgy, modern world in which individual lives and simple destinies are blown out of all proportion by drama and accident. They offer a vision of the United States as a rational universe in which the physical needs to fight to find its place and to escape what fate has in store for it.

Ali and Stephanie, our two characters, do not appear in the short stories, and Craig Davidson’s collection already seems to belong to the prehistory of the project, but the power and brutality of the tale, our desire to use drama, indeed melodrama, to magnify their characters all have their immediate source in those stories.

From the very beginning of our work adapting it, we were focused on a kind of cinematography that, for want of a better word, we called ‘expressionist”. We wanted the power of stark, brutal and contrasting images in order to Further the melodrama: the aesthetics of the Great Depression, of county-fair films whose bizarre visual work sublimates the dark reality of a world in which God vomits the lukewarm”.

It is that kind of aesthetic that constantly guided us as we worked on the screenplay. It sustains a love story that is true hero of the film. It shoes the world through the eyes of a confused child. It underscores the nobleness of our characters in a world made violent by economic disaster. And it respects Ali and Stephanie’s stubborn attempts to escape their condition.
    - Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain

Rust and Bone is released in cinemas on 2 November 2012

Rust and Bone Poster
Rust and Bone Poster

BFI Film Festival
BFI Film Festival