Thursday, March 21, 2013

Movie Review: Rust and Bone

Bone Hugs-N-Disharmony

      RUST [rust] v. 
      1. To deteriorate or degenerate through inactivity or neglect. 
      2. To impair or spoil, as by misuse or inactivity. 

The Free Dictionary: By Farlex

      Jacques Audiard dangerously conforms to a sociological latticework that breeds dysfunction and chaos. He is not interested in exploring the complications of life through rose-colored glasses. Materialistic goons spawned from the next incarnation of The Queen of Versailles are not his concernDisharmony is his unifying force. People who operate desperately on the fringes of society are his focus.
      Discovering Rust and Bone, which marks the splendid succession of four consecutive critical triumphs for Jacques Audiard, all expressing the coarseness of human behavior, of men and women imperiled by disorder, has amplified my central belief in his work. This belief stands as more of a preconception, which is motivated by Audiard's curiosity in the devolution of flawed men. These are brutish figures subjugated to an ethos of potent masculinity that requires confronting harsh, unforgiving terrains and exposing equally harsh realities. This cinematic conceit, of the fractured masculine ideal, is juxtaposed with the delicate and subdued yearning to reach spiritual fulfillment. Tethered to this humanistic posturing is a terrifying conclusion. That redemption is indiscriminate. 
      The deterioration of our physical states, of our conscious minds, is propelled by fate. It will happen. This certainty represents the "rust" of life. The "bone" is how we respond to that impairment. If you idle by under the ineffectual pretensions of a weak nature, Audiard suggests you'll crumble. But if underlying your troubles is a kind of resiliency and strength, then you'll rise from the adversity stronger and emotionally complete. Rust and Bone depicts modern troubles through the microcosm of young, assertive, physically contented adults. How they respond to their troubles is ultimately what emboldens Jacques Audiard's narrative thrust.

      Based on Craig Davidson's short story collection of the same name, Rust and Bone tells the story of Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), an unemployed father and aspiring professional fighter, who develops sporadic romantic feelings for a killer whale trainer, Stephanie (Marion Cottillard), who suffers a tragic accident. Since I'm staunchly against all manner of spoilers, I will not reveal any further details specific to the plot except to underscore certain points later in my review. I will offer this last bit of promotion. One of the most gut-wrenching moments to occur in any recent film that I can remember is central to the dramatic arc of this film and it is handled with the utmost care from a dignified master of melodrama.
      I like to think of Marion Cotillard as a French, dark-haired version of Naomi Watts. Feelings and emotions radiate from her face without resorting to cheap emotive tactics or succumbing to exuberant theatricality. Her approach is a testament to the power of restraint, of intimating ideas through honest expression. The convenience of mechanical contrivance offers no boon. Her performance is strong, subtle, and beautifully nuanced. The benefactor of her depressed physical needs is a real life Hulk. Matthias Schoenaerts's uncanny summons of sensitivity in the face of gargantuan physique is tremendous. Some keen reviewers note a similarity to the early method work of Marlon Brando (Streetcar Named Desire would make a terrific double-feature). Schoenaert's cinematic genealogy presumes an adeptness for configuring this type of muscle-bound man who is stubbornly prone to failure. Michael R. Roskam's Bullhead is an exceptional character study and it showcases a riveting performance from Mr. Schoenaerts that is emotionally consistent with his character here. The traumas he endures in Bullhead present a compelling corollary to the parental dysfunctions he displays in Rust and Bone. Procuring meager profits by subjecting your body to insane physical punishment is no way to go through life. But Audiard's chief interest is probing the perils of men who are victimized by unwieldy pain. The symbiosis that is fostered between Stephanie and Alain is a by-product of their enslavement to an uncomfortable, hostile living environment. The culmination of their journey can only be reached if they bleed the rust from their shattered bones. 
      Alain remains estranged from the safety net that emotion supplies while Stephanie is divorced from the outward physicality upon which Alain's preoccupation with fighting brutally relies. Focusing only on his most visceral physical needs has been an unstable course. What triggers Alain's resolution in the heart-wrenching climax is his submission to raw emotion, retreating finally to that reservoir from which authentic feelings originate. 

      The story relentlessly penetrates its bleak surroundings. Experiencing grief is an instrumental step in life's discordant journey. Rust and Bone ends optimistically even though the candle of optimism is burnished by an uncertain polish. "You're stronger at the broken places." The fractured parts become the impetus for change. Audiard's character-centric method invites empathy. Downtrodden souls deserve our understanding as much as they warrant an unvarnished cinematic gaze. Audiard permits—in fact implores you to root for his characters despite our moral protests. It is a rare gift that recalls Martin Scorsese whom I champion enough times to motivate an intervention.
      One look at Audiard's three central works preceding Rust and Bone confirms this assessment. Romain Duris had to absorb a life of disrepute in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, his retreat to the patriarchal rule of his father an unavoidable circumstance. His desire to become a concert pianist was squelched by persistent familial expectation. Vincent Cassel's capacity for skulduggery in Read My Lips was emboldened by the arrival of an earnest woman with a hearing deficiency, their fates intertwined by a shared compulsion to be heard and recognized. A Prophet followed the cruel trajectory of a man who was supremely comfortable in treading life's innocent path, but an instinct for self-preservation forced him to resort to violence, his dovetail into a life of crime complete. These were flawed men whose fates were interlocked by an unrelenting push to commit crime and dispense vicious force, whose gentle, softer natures remained latent and limp. 

     Peering over the cineliterate prose of Roger Ebert, I'm drawn to one particular statement. "Jacques Audiard is interested in what remains of people after something has been lost."(1) A surface glance suggests that Rust and Bone only explores the emotional beats of disability. But such an approach is limited. Audiard eschews sentimentality employed by other films that address this delicate subject, pivoting instead off a more hardened and callous gaze. Alain's line to Stephanie when he's looking for sex, "Are you OP?" (which we learn means "operational" i.e. poised for sex) offers a glimpse into the psychological proclivities of his protagonists. It expands upon the notion that these two characters are functioning on a visceral level, in which complex emotional needs are replaced by the immediate comfort of physical gratification. 
      That Rust and Bone bathes in bleak waters yet a beautifully composed payoff still surfaces is a testament to Audiard's tonal skill. A restrained approach and his penchant for slow Steadicam shots, fixating on the backs of characters' heads— emblematic of the Dardenne Brothers, a comparison worth its weight in gold—is the reason. The balletic choreography that informs his fighting sequences, triggering memories of Gavin O'Connor's Warrior, is consistent with Audiard's poetic tact. It reinforces my belief that the French equivalent to Martin Scorsese does walk this Earth.
      Jacques Audiard imbues all his movies with that most irresistible aesthetic, the "French cool" popularized by Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless and Alain Delon in Le Samourai. His sleek, subversive narratives are contextualized by an abiding faith in Hollywood values i.e. treating entertainment as religion. What results is an unconventional take on an otherwise conventional story. Style and substance miraculously converge. Neither mechanism overshadows the other. 
      Audiard considers cinema entertainment. Music and literature are the true bastions of art. The creative flourishes in his films that impart meaning—close-ups carefully attuned to emotion, medium shots that dance to the rhythm of pop or the drama of opera, wide shots that illuminate geography and identify purpose—underscore his aesthetic doctrine.  Music and story coexist in perfect harmony. The spell so feverish it functions on its own accord, beholden to its own style. Reflecting on France's long and fertile history with film, of the Lumiere Brothers, Jean Vigo, Jean Renoir, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Carne, Claude Chabrol, Godard, Truffaut, Tati, Melville, Resnais, and Rohmer (and many other greats that succinctness will not allow me to spotlight), you start to realize the enormity of the honor hoisted upon Jacques Audiard when I declare that his legacy is now firmly linked to that immortal class of French filmmakers. Four straight cinematic gems thus entitles thee. 

9 out of 10


Citation (1):


  1. Matty is back indeed! I haven't seen this one, but you provide an excellent analysis as always! I'll keep an eye out for this one!

  2. Good review Matt. The relationship between these two is sweet, and Cotillard is a beautiful piece of work to be mesmerized by. However, it does get conventional by the end and began to lose me a bit.

    1. Thanks, Dan!

      Matthias' and Marion's relationship is pivotal to the film's dramatic power, the real driving force of everything sad, tender, and emotional that follows. I can understand why you would take umbrage with the ending as it does befit the conventional rubric of, say, a tragic Hollywood love story. And what could possibly be endearing about that? But I still find it mesmerizing because Audiard's visual and tonal skills are that potent.

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. I love, love Marion and am looking forward to seeing this. She is an exceptional talent. Brilliant, yet educational review, something I always loved about Siskel and Ebert. This sounds like an absolute gem of a film not to be missed I am so happy you are back reviewing. You have no idea how much I missed Filmmattic. So many dead reviews by people with no true passion or love for film.

    1. Wow! That's high praise. Thanks :)

      Marion is a magnificent actress. The most difficult task required of an actor is expressing emotions and ideas through gesture Doing it in a way that avoids theatrical posturing. A simple look in a person's eye, the way their gaze is fixated on a particular point in the foreground, how they enunciate, all these aspects constitute effective acting. Marion does it with supreme grace and makes it look effortless. She's an absolute magician.

      I was a huge fan of the Siskel and Ebert show and still remain an ardent follower of Ebert's criticism. I'm especially fond of his Great Movies series. Thanks so much for the emphatic endorsement :)

  4. Raw edgy film that is a surprising and unusual love story between two characters from seemingly different worlds. It is a cultural talent and way of storytelling that mainstream cinema in the USA does not have in many ways, in French cinema they really do know how to depict human interaction on a very intimate, emotional and personal level, watch it for that reason alone.

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