Rust & Bone is the new foreign film from director Jacques Audiard, who exploded onto the scene (as much as you can with foreign films, I guess) with A Prophet in 2009. His new film often feels like it too is about to become the next big independent splash—it has two amazing lead performances, an intriguing story of sexual desires amidst great physical tragedy, and the camera work and cinematography are absolutely stunning. But it just never quite reaches that pinnacle of greatness—some lack of ambition, perhaps, or stifling of confidence stops it from going past a merely "good" movie, and into a "great" one, and I feel the script plays a major part in that.
Having said this, it's impossible to not recommend Rust & Bone—for all its flaws, this is still very much a film worth watching, and perhaps my disappointments with its story construction and character development will lessen with time and repeat viewings. Bone stars Mattheas Schoenarts and Marion Cottliard in two very different, but very difficult roles. Schoenarts plays a single dad who tries to balance being a father, a player, a bodyguard, and an occasional criminal and street fighter, and Cottliard (the flashier of the two roles) is a whale trainer at Sea World who loses her legs in a horrifying accident. The two eventually become friends, and then lovers, and where the story goes from there I'll let you discover.
The best aspects of Rust & Bone are these performances, and the assured direction by Audiard. I watched this film just minutes after seeing Michael Hanecke's Amour, and I must say that the passion and excitement Audiard has with his camera was a breath of fresh air after the rather stale and stoic Amour. Rust & Bone is a visually and aesthetically beautiful film, but it never feels like Audiard is showing off.
The acting is terrific across the board, especially from Cottliard, who might snag her second Oscar nomination for the role (certainly she won't get one for her earlier 2012 effort, The Dark Knight Rises). Both actors bare their souls and their bodies for these roles, but Cottliard excels in a truly shocking way. It's one of the best female performances of the year, and especially due to the sometimes frequent nudity, one of the bravest. It musn't be easy for an actress that beautiful to let herself look this rough on camera, but she does it, and it's the primary reason Rust & Bone works so well.
And yet, the film still feels…incomplete, and I'm afraid to report that I personally think the screenplay lets the actors and director down. Written by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, the script suffers from a general lack of cohesive focus—I was very interested in Schoenarts fictitious relationship with his young son, for instance, but they are given less and less screen time throughout and after a while we almost forget about the son completely (except for one of the last scenes, of course, which is deeply troubling to watch). When the romance between Schoenarts and Cottliard begins it is very interesting, but after a while it does seem to simply become "they screw each other a lot and kinda care about each other.”
I kept waiting for more depth, more truth, to be found in their interactions; sadly, the film ended before I became fully satisfied. And despite my earlier praise of the production, there are times the script is so fuzzy in its desires that the end result becomes unintentionally hilarious, such as the scene where Cottliard goes on her porch and pretends to be training whales again—what could have been a delicate scene becomes overblown, with Katy Perry's "Fireworks" playing loudly (and distractingly) in the background. Let it be said that even Martin Scorsese would have trouble using Katy Perry—what Audiard was thinking of, I'm not quite sure.
Despite the screenplay's general wanderings and dropping of sub-plots (the whole whale trainer angle is brought up after the Perry scene, then disappears again completely), Rust & Bone is still an occasionally excellent film. I preferred it to the already overrated Amour, and of the 12 films I saw at the Calgary and Toronto film festivals this year, it still wound up being one of the top 3. It's a great looking and sounding film (minus Katy Perry of course), and the performance by Marion Cottliard will surely be a major awards contender. I wish the writing had been as up to par as the rest of the production, but such is the pattern of 2012 movies.