|Français : Jacques Audiard au festival de Cannes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|Marion Cotillard, actrice française (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
This is a film made from the hard bones of working class life, realistic, yet with a touch of poetry that redeems it from what might seem like a brutal theme. It concerns a man who works part-time as a club bouncer, played with amazing zeal and force by Matthias Schoenaerts in a performance that has had some critics recalling Marlon Brando at his peak. He has a child whom he really doesn’t know what to do with, so he drifts to join his sister and her husband in the south of France, thus loading the welfare of the child on to her. In other words, he is a somewhat irresponsible person, who fills in much of his time taking part in kick-boxing contests in which he is frequently injured.
One night at his club he meets a young woman who has been slightly injured in a fracas, played by Marion Cotillard, and he escorts her home, and leaves her there with his telephone number in case she should need to get back to him. She turns out to be a trainer of whales at an aquatic show, but she is injured in a severe accident, and when she wakes up in hospital she discovers she has lost the lower part of both legs.
One day, in a depressed mood at her terrible condition, she idly phones the bouncer, Ali, who visits her, carries her down to the sea, and begins to reopen her eyes to the world around her. He visits her from time to time, and eventually they fall into having occasional casual sex. Ali describes it as “I am OP”, and when she asks what he means, he says, “I am operational,” meaning, ready for sex at any time she is.
Their relationship continues in this haphazard fashion. She begins to watch him in action at the martial arts, and even to sort of become his manager for his performances. She regards him coolly as he makes out with another woman, and then he decides he has to change location, so he disappears from her life. His move is partly motivated by quarrels with his sister and brother-in-law, about the boy, but eventually these quarrels are overcome, and they bring the boy to spend a few days with him. They play around on the surface of a frozen lake, but, momentarily distracted, he becomes vaguely aware that the boy has disappeared and all that is where the boy once stood is a hole in the ice. Frantically, he discovers the boy floating under the ice, and in a fit of panic smashes his way through the ice to pull the child out, ruining his hands in the process and putting into question his recent decision to make a living from his fighting. Reporting to his in-laws about the accident --- his son was unconscious and is recovering slowly in hospital --- Ali is phoned by Stephanie: on the line he realizes his loneliness, breaks down, pleads with her not to leave him --- although he has left her long before --- and admits that he loves her.
These two characters are not your usual movie heroes. Ali is brutish, self-centred, rude, and shows only occasional flashes of humanity; Stephanie, though beautiful and cool, could have become a cardboard victim. Neither actor permits that to happen: both performances are superb, triumphant in fact, as good as anything we will ever see on the screen. Cotillard, as anyone who remembers her in the biography of Piaf will know, is a rare actress with the ability somehow to express thoughts and feelings on her mobile, lovely face that most other actresses could reveal only with a lot of mawkish histrionics.
The screenplay, incidentally, was cobbled together by director Jacques Audiard from two stories in a volume of short stories written by tough-guy Canadian author, Craig Davidson in 2006, the one about the bouncer, the other about a whale-trainer who loses his legs. Davidson apparently, was delighted to have his work used in this way, and insists the film script is better in every way than his stories. The title of his book of stories was Rust and Bone which probably accounts for the fact I kept wondering what relevance the title had to this particular story. Anyway, Davidson, to judge from what has been written about him, specializes in working-class characters, and people who might otherwise be described as losers, but who, he says, seem to deal nobly with circumstances a lot worse than anything he has had to deal with himself.