Based on a collection of short stories by Craig Davidson, Rust and Bone tells the story of Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a couple who meet during a nightclub brawl. Ali drives Stephanie home and leaves his number in case she ever needs him. Some time later, she calls. Stephanie trained killer whales at a marine park in Antibes on the French Riviera, but has lost her legs due to an accident. The more these two people spend time together, the more they come alive through one another.
There are some that have complained that Moonrise Kingdom opened Cannes with more of a whimper than a bang, and Rust and Bone is the great saving grace of the first week of the festival. I am not sure I agree, however. Rust and Bone clocks in at two hours long, and at times the film feels laboured and forced.
Marion Cotillard gives an outstanding performance as Stephanie, and the moment that she realises she has lost her legs is heart breaking and feels incredibly real. There is also a fantastic moment where Stephanie returns to the scene of her accident and re-connects with a killer whale. This is nothing new however, anyone who has seen any of Cotillard’s previous films will know that this is a woman with a fierce acting talent. The revelation of the film is relative newcomer Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali. This is a man who has difficulty communicating verbally, and the journey he goes on through the film is one of self discovery and learning not to talk with his fists. The problem is that by the time the audience realises that Ali is the protagonist of the story, they may have checked out.
Rust and Bone feels over long and fractured. Yes, these are damaged people but the scattered narrative leaves the film feeling jumbled. There are moments of great emotional resonance, such as Ali’s non judgemental acceptance of Stephanie after her accident and the tenderness with which he treats her, but the scene where Stephanie remembers her routine as a whale trainer is given Katy Perry’s Firework as a soundtrack, which leaves the scene feeling like it was cut from the video for the song. This music choice feels trite and overly obvious, and left some audience members in the Grand Theatre Lumiere shaking their heads and smiling uncomfortably.
Director Jacques Audiard last came to Cannes with his 2009 film Un Prophet – for which he won the top award – and there is already talk of Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress for her performance. Audiard has tried to create a feature length romantic drama from a series of short stories, and while he has succeeded for the most part, the moments that don’t work really crash, leaving the film feeling flat.
In all, Audiard’s latest film is a beautifully shot romance, which captures the look and feel of the French Riviera magnificently. There are stellar performances from the two leads, but the two hour running time leaves the film feeling bloated, and there are some scenes that will leave the audience cringing.