Rust and Bone
Director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) displays a bit of film noir in his latest outing "Rust and Bone", based on a short story collection by Craig Davidson.
The eerily engaging actor Matthias Schoenaerts shines once again as Alain, a hustler of sorts and a small time boxer with a rage problem. Some may remember Schoenaerts from the excellent "Bullhead" where he played a steroid injected slaughterhouse worker, a hybrid between man and beast and he is just as intimidating here.
Alain is up against it from the get-go forced to steal to feed his young son. He drifts from town to town, finally crashing with his surly sister Anne (Corinne Masiero). One night at a disco, he meets the mysterious and no-nonsense Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) who is being hit by a man. Alain intercepts and strikes the man with savagery. And he is some smooth talker. On the way home, he calls Stephanie a whore. Somehow, she asks him inside to ice his hand. Alain discovers that Stephanie is an orca trainer.After a hostile introduction by a boyfriend, Alain leaves in a bluster.
Meanwhile we are shown scenes of Stephanie at work as she conducts the killer whales like an orchestra at a kind of Sea World. These vignettes are quite tense as the huge bodies of these wondrous creatures, all but dwarf the voluptuous curves of Stephanie. For all her love of control, she is a mere minion.
Alain gets a job as a security guard moonlighting as a mixed martial arts boxer, while Stephanie becomes a victim of a whale attack, horribly losing her legs.
During a chance call, Alain communicates with Stephanie again and the film merges into a noir study of power and control where the raw shark like animalism of Alain---who is a human Orca---is balanced with the dominatrix-like behavior of Stephanie.
As Stephanie begins sexual relations with Alain, she becomes hardened with solid block lettered tattoos on each hip spelling out DROITE (right) and GAUCHE (left) in harsh graphics. She also takes control of the boxing racket, seeing herself as a kind of Madame of Pain. Jacques Audiard echoes Charles Laughton's classic "The Night of the Hunter". Instead of Robert Mitchum's fearful knuckle-valentine inscriptions of love and hate, we have Marion Cotillard. Both graphic designs on the body are equally intimidating. But here, there is also a nod to David Cronenberg in the use of gleaming metal prosthetics to inspire and repel sex. The metal of Stephanie's legs are paired with Alain's indispensable but battered hands. Poetically, Stephanie can be seen as a lost mermaid domme who is at home in the water, while Alain is a mercenary urban guerrilla, wishing for a consort but not wanting to work all that much too find her.
There are many striking episodes in the film, particularly when Stephanie returns to the Orca tank to confront a whale. As she directs the aquatic homunculus with her hands, the whale becomes both a lapping puppy and a rotund instrument of movement, ink and submission. There is also the mere physicality of Alain and Stephanie as their bodies mix and merge, the pale amputated flesh of Stephanie blending with the hardness of Alain's muscle, creating an odd kill machine, perfectly suited for acts of taking and selfishness.
These interludes by themselves make "Rust and Bone" a compelling must-see, no matter that the film's ending gets a little sewn up, all too pat.
There is enough punchy desperation here to keep you ducking and the carnivorous yet strangely antic gestures of Matthias Schoenaerts, like that of a clown pigmented with anger, are endlessly watchable.
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