Armand Verdure

Rust and Bone follows the character of Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) as he tries to make his way through life as best he can. We first see him with his son, Sam (Armand Verdure), on a train, collecting scrap food from receptacles. They’re heading towards his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), who he’s planning to stay with for a while. He ends up getting a job with a security company and has a chance encounter with a woman, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), who trains whales at a water park. There is an accident at the park, and Stephanie ends up losing her legs. The film takes us through Alain’s experiences as he sees all of these relationships through. Alain is a character of much contrivance. He comes off mostly as a drifter with little to his name. His inability to pity Stephanie is what benefits her as we watch her recovery, but at the same time we see him have the same approach to how he handles his relationship with his sister and his five-year-old son. His response to anything he can’t quite control is to lash out at it, with scenes of him shouting and punishing his child. In one moment we see him throw his son across the room, and the child ends up hitting his head on a table. We see so many moments in which he’s being loving and compassionate, but in times when things aren’t good he almost can’t manage to keep being loving.

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Rust and Bone could well have failed. In many other hands the story of a killer whale trainer who loses her legs but finds strength and her resurrection in an unlikely relationship with an underworld bare knuckle boxer with a good heart…well, it could have been a monstrous amalgamation of Rocky meets Free Willy with the contrived over-sentimentality of Steel Magnolias. But in the hands of Un Prophet‘s excellent helmer Jacques Audiard, the film swerves the “cancer story”/Oscar baiting stigma that some will accuse it of thanks to a simple but engaging central story and two award-worthy performances from its central actors. Marion Cotillard plays said whale trainer – Stephanie – who loses her legs after a performance accident, and who regresses rapidly to a self-destructive stagnating state, but who finds hope and the capacity for her own resurrection through a relationship with Matthias Schoenaerts‘ bare-knuckle boxer Ali, who lives hand to mouth by any means before his underworld fights offer him and his son some opportunities for a slightly better life. Having briefly met Stephanie before her accident, Alain helps her to find herself again not through pandering or pity, but simply by offering his help and his company, and you have to give credit to Audiard that his story never strays towards saccharine, made-for-TV style sentimentality.

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