Y'all, I'm scared of whales. That is my only phobia, though moreso blue whales than orcas, which are somewhat prominently featured in Rust And Bone. It took a lot for me to finally give this title a chance, despite the lovely Marion Cotillard being in it as a killer whale trainer named Stephanie. Stephanie gets in a brawl at a club and is escorted home by one of the club's bouncer, Alain. Alain arrived in France along with his newly-obtained five-year-old son Sam and is staying with his sister and her husband. At the beginning of the movie, he is seen rummaging through a train wagon for discarded food for his hungry son while the two are on their way to France. He also steals from a store to buy a McDonald's meal for the pair. Despite that, Alain is unable to relate to his young son, whom he took from Sam's mother for unexplained reasons. He remains distant to all those around him. However, the night when he rescues Stephanie from the club brawl, Alain yet again shows the soft side of him highlighted at the beginning of the film, however gritty. The two are brutally honest with each other and Alain leaves his contact information for Stephanie, who seems disenchanted with her love life. Later, during one of her shows at the tourist park she works at, Stephanie becomes involved in a freak accident with the killer whales (yikes! I had to move back a couple of feet away from my screen when the attack began). Stephanie wakes up to find both of her legs amputated. She finds herself in a slump and becomes depressed with her condition, refusing to go out. In her state, she contacts Alain, who pays her a visit. He helps her leave the confines of her new home and encourages her to swim in the ocean.
He supports her on his back, carrying to and fro into the ocean. Their bond grows. Stephanie invites herself over to Alain's first match in a kickboxing ring he was enlisted in by his now-manager. To Stephanie's objections, Alain explains that he fights because he loves it. Stephanie obtains artificial limbs and becomes more mobile. She and Alain's relationship becomes sexual in nature, though Alain is honest about his other side dalliances. When Alain's manager becomes indisposed to do his job, Stephanie takes over the reigns of his matches and manages him. Their relationship deepens. Stephanie starts finding meaning in her life through Alain and Alain starts to open up more to the world around him. Yet, their past ways threaten to shatter the new world they've created for themselves.
Rust And Bone is already one of my favorite pictures from last year. And that's quite an accomplishment because I consider 2012 to be the best year for films since 2001 (my ultimate favorite movie year of all time). 2007 comes close. I would rank it right behind Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables and The Master. Because Rust And Bone bears unaccustomed-to beauty in every single frame of its 2-hour run time. The cinematography is rich and detailed, showcasing both the beauty and the ugliness in our surroundings. The scenes where Alain forages for food for example are so crisp in their visuals that everything becomes maximized, showing their perfect imperfections. The scene of a man sitting on a beach with his son, after having stolen to provide food, becomes something of beauty in the scenery and the light captured. This is a recurring motif in the movie. The scene where Stephanie falls into the aquarium and she floats peacefully as if she were ascending to the sky, is inter-cut with brief, flashing images of the whales' teeth as they(it?) attack. And also in a scene where a Stephanie is bathed in gorgeous blue neon light in a club and watches rotating hips around hers with the short dresses adorning their gyrating bodies. The scene is beautiful, peaceful due to the color and vibrant due to the dancing people/blaring music, yet saddening as Stephanie covers her artificial legs with her jacket.
Speaking of the music, most of the music featured is playing in real-time, giving a sense of authenticity to the film. The song 'Fireworks' by Katy Perry blasts over the PA system as Stephanie guides her troupe of whales into dance. Not a big fan of Perry, but the song fits into the movie. It's real and feels as if the moments have been lived and continue to live on in our memories, separate from the characters. Alex over at And So It Begins... made mention of the same fact in his fantastic review of Rust And Bone.
Matthias Schoenaerts deserved far more praise than he received during awards season. His work in this film, though my first time hearing of him and seeing him in action, is quite outstanding. Alain is a character that is hard to relate to or root for. He does not seem to be trying to improve on his shortcomings. He seems to accept what life has handed him. He is a man who has been conditioned to the harshness of the world around him and is just going through the motions, trying to survive. Many of his decisions, while aligning with the character's persona, do leave one unable to care much for him. Yet, Matthias manages to add layer to his performance, showing Alain as a man who does not set out to better himself but is bettered through his meeting with Stephanie. Perhaps it is his acceptance of his surroundings that help better him through Stephanie. He, at first, accepts their relationship for what it is, mostly carnal in nature. He then begins to find more out of it as their aiding each other extends beyond their relationship and starts to affect other aspects of their individual lives. This all culminates in a heart-wrenching scene where the changes in Alain take center stage when he finally lets his inner self seep out into the world around him. He is finally able to show love, but not in the way that is commonplace for most movies. Rust And Bone is not just a romantic drama. It shows love for a man, a woman, a son, one's profession. Rust And Bone tackles love in a way never before seen by cinema, I believe. It shows all its shortcomings and all of its possibilities.
Yet, with all the praise for Matthias, it really is Marion Cotillard who almost steals the film, were it not for the solid performances from Matthias and his onscreen sister Corinne Masiero. Cotillard is an actress whom my love for continues to grow with each successive films of hers. I loved her in Inception, my first movie of hers, and feel she was the best performer in the entire film. She again was the best performer in Midnight In Paris, though her role here does somehow mirror her role in the previously mentioned movie. I finally recognized her pure brilliance in La Vie En Rose. Her role in Rust And Bone is on par with her performance in La Vie En Rose. How she was not nominated for a Best Actress Oscar is beyond me. She starts the movie as a woman very different and still somewhat similar from/to Matthias. She is disenchanted with the present state of her life (does the first picture not tell you why?) and unlike Matthias recognizes her disenchantment. But, similar to Matthias, she accepts it for what it is and continues with the motions, until the freak accident amputates her two legs. A heart-wrenching scene in the hospital follows. I was nearly in tears as Marion withered on the ground, crying about her missing legs. Marion seems to accept her fate yet again and becomes depressed and a recluse. Matthias brings a much-needed support in her life and she begins to challenge her old notions about the world.
The scene where I finally broke down in the film is the scene where Stephanie visits the park she used to work at and guides one of the whales into one of their routines. I should have been afraid of that scene given my phobia. But I think it truly is the most beautiful moment in the film. Just look at the image to the left. Stephanie looks through the glass at the whale, simultaneously staring into her past. Look at her reflection in the glass. It's almost as if she's looking into her old self and is making peace with her past. Stephanie has finally forgiven herself and is now able to move on. Only after losing part of herself does she become whole. Not only were the whale's antics cute, the way this moment was captured on film and Marion's acting skills also add to its mystical beauty. I cried and replayed this scene several more times. It really is the climax of the movie. In her role, Marion manages to make subtlety her bitch. She conveys a gamut of emotions that are amazingly affecting in their approach and ultimate execution. Cotillard usually plays the sad woman, however accomplished and fleshed out the roles do become. But here, she gives even more facets to that woman, like one of those tri-color pens. Yeah, best metaphor I could come up with. Just know it means that Cotillard is pretty much one of the best actresses around now. It's set in stone. Which is why my main and only complaint about the film is that she becomes underused in the ending quarter of the film.
Rust And Bone is just not a movie I expected to love to this extent or to even watch in the first place. But there it is, probably my fourth favorite from last year and tied with J-Law and Hathaway as my favorite female performance of last year. I seriously hope more of you check this movie out. It may not seem to be your style, but I feel there really is a gem there. Not conspicuous and not manifest. It's a treasure that like the characters in their personal lives we have to uncover for ourselves.