Sunday, December 23, 2012

Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os)

RUST AND BONE (De rouille et d'os)            B                     
France  Belgium  (123 mi)  2011 ‘Scope  d:  Jacques Audiard    

Another savagely brutal film, where it seems directors have to ply ever deeper into extraordinary realms of violence to find new avenues of exploration for a public that apparently never grows saturated.  Part of the problem with elevating levels of violence is alienating an audience from the characters, who are often overly alienated themselves, creating a moral abyss or a human void, where characters onscreen are often numb to the world around them.  While Audiard has previously created vividly interesting characters, a gangster who plays classical piano in The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeu... (2005), or a prison inmate lured into a larger criminal underworld as an act of self preservation in 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet ... (2009), here his script lets him down with two lead characters so disconnected from the world and so completely repressed emotionally that it’s difficult to care about people who care so little for themselves.  Without offering any background information, Marion Cotillard plays Stéphanie, a trainer of Orca whales at the local French Marineland, while Matthias Schoenaerts, so unbelievably compelling in Bullhead (Rundskop) (2011), returns as Ali, a physically imposing, bulked up martial arts kickboxer who appears to be slumming it as a nightclub bouncer.  When Stéphanie gets her nose bloodied at a nightclub brawl, Ali politely drives her home where both get a good look at one another, but nothing comes of it.  Ali apparently left Belgium and is living with his always harried sister Anna (Corrine Masiero), who works as a check out clerk at a grocery store, and also, it seems, is the designated parent of Ali’s 5-year old son Sam (Arman Verdure), with no mother in the picture and a derelict father who takes momentary interest but then mostly ignores his responsibilities.   

Ali drifts to another job, installing black market security devices intended to spy on company staff instead of the public, as due to union protections this is often the only way to fire incompetent staff, becoming very popular with employers.   While we get a glimpse of both of them at their jobs, just brief sketches are provided, as neither employer is explored with any detail, where instead Audiard creates a sense of personal detachment simply by not taking more of an interest himself.  After what amounts to an audience feel-good music video by Kate Perry Katy Perry - Firework - YouTube (3:54) of synchronized Orca whales jumping in formation out of the water, all mysteriously goes haywire in a disaster that is never really shown, only suggested in a Jane Campion-style abstract underwater rendering that instead follows the devastating aftermath where Stéphanie wakes up in a hospital missing both legs below the knees.  While she’s psychologically traumatized, alone and alienated in a stunning reversal of fortune, Audiard also intercuts scenes of Ali watching YouTube video tapes of memorable martial arts fighters, where he’s offered extra money if he’ll participate in a few street brawls, which are little different than dog or cockfighting, as they’re brutally repellent illegal enterprises that make gads of quick money on high stakes betting.  With no one else to turn to, Stéphanie turns to Ali, calling him out of the blue, where he actually rises to the occasion, refusing to show pity, offering her instead some well-deserved consideration.  It should be noted that in the process, he continually ignores his own kid and often abuses him as well, so Ali is hardly a sympathetic character, turning this into a variation on the Beauty and the Beast story, where interestingly, Stéphanie might appear to be the beauty, but internally she feels as grotesque and disfigured as the beast, and similarly Ali might seem to be the beast, but in her eyes, with his physical prowess intact, she gazes longingly at the beauty in his physique and body movement, even if much of it is displayed in brute fashion.    

Much of the problem in this film is the way Audiard just skims over the surface, treating his leads like isolated planets revolving around themselves, never connecting to a universe around them, fast forwarding Stéphanie’s recovery without ever showing how difficult it is to recover from such an impactful injury.  In this film, she’s able to leglessly (and gracefully, in perhaps the most gorgeous scene in the film) swim in the sea or miraculously walk without wobbling just days after receiving two prosthetic legs, hardly realistic, as normally the recovery time is in months and years Stryker soldier learning to walk on two prosthetic legs | FOB Tacoma .  5-year old Sam doesn’t age a bit, and of course takes to Stéphanie right away, so you’d think there’s a chance Ali might change his ways, but he stubbornly remains just as troubling with him as always, showing little patience for the difficulties children exhibit learning new things.  Cotillard and especially Schoenaerts are both superb and work well together, but the predictable material lets them down, so instead this is a performance generated movie, where the complexity of their damaged souls is actually a mirror image of one another, where they can seek solace in what each must overcome.  Perhaps the problem is attempting to combine into one narrative a series of collected short stories by Canadian writer Craig Davidson, so rather than a series of vignettes, Audiard attempts to link them all together, which might explain the disjointed and contrived narrative elements.  In this film, their developing love (without actually loving) just happens out of the blue, much like Stéphanie’s recovery, without showing the difficulty of the enormous personal investment needed.  Somewhat reminiscent of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 21 GRAMS, where a freak accident causes a chain reaction, this is a painful film about loss and disappointment, leading to a kind of unadmitted, internalized desperation that plays out like open sores.  The finale, though beautifully expressed in the winter snow, feels horribly contrived, as Ali suddenly takes an interest in his son, something he hasn’t done throughout the entire movie, kind of wrapping the whole picture up in a bow.  Despite using a completely unsentimentalized approach, a story of love without romance, fueled by two immensely damaged and heavily guarded characters, the performances alone are not enough to suggest that shared personal misfortune can somehow overcome human inadequacy, as the redemptive breakthrough at the end hardly feels naturalistic or well earned.

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