Life throws a lot at us. Sometimes it’s positive, but for the most part many of us find that life tests our ability to cope with all manner of crap when we least expect it.
Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) leaves Belgium with his young son, they’re destitute and hungry and it’s evident they’ve had to leave in a hurry. They are on their way to Southern France to live with Ali’s sister and her husband. We learn that Ali hasn’t seen in his sister in a long time, the relationship is strained and awkward and there are hints that the mother of his son was caught up with the wrong crowd, using the young boy to smuggle drugs. The scene is set; Ali has had a tough life.
It’s at this point that the audience starts to realise that despite the pre-conceptions that might have been fed to us, this film isn’t going to be about Stephanie, played by Marion Cotillard (Le Vie en Rose, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises). At this point we are still to meet her and as the story develops it becomes more about the challenges of parenthood, facing up to your responsibilities as an adult, a parent, a brother, and realising that you cannot go through life with no consideration of those around you.
Ali finds work as a bouncer at what appears to be a less than classy club and this is where he meets Stephanie, a young woman who loves to go to clubs by herself and dance. Even from the start of their relationship, despite Ali helping her when she’s caught up in a bar fight, he’s no gentleman, suggesting that the real reason Stephanie goes to clubs on her own is to meet men. When she asks how he could think that, he simply responds “you dress like a whore”.
As they go their separate ways after this night, Ali continues to look for work elsewhere, continues to take home different girls and continues to ignore his duties as a parent. Meanwhile Stephanie suffers a terrible accident that ends with both her legs having to be amputated.
Out of depression, desperation or perhaps boredom Stephanie makes contact with Ali again and his ‘couldn’t care less about anything’ attitude proves to be Stephanie’s saving grace, as he treats her like he treats everyone else making her feel ‘normal’ again.
We don’t want to add to any pre-conceptions you may have about this film already so we won’t tell you much more about the story, apart from to tell you that you won’t find a fairy tale here with an ending that sees a knight in shining armour riding off into the sunset with his damsel in distress. What you will find is a story about real life. Yes, sometimes life can provide fairy tales, we’ve all no doubt got stories of how people have fallen in love in perfect situations, but some people find each other because they need to. They find each other because circumstances and life bring them together through tragedy. Life indeed throws crap at us and simply having a hand to hold means we can pick ourselves up and move on. Rust and Bone captures this perfectly with a bleak intensity that tests your emotions fully.
The film itself is beautifully shot. Beautiful scenes see the sunshine of a southern French beach almost bleach the characters from the screen only to be saved by flashes of shadow and colour. These scenes act as an almost perfect opposite to the gritty, leave-it-to-your imagination, interpretation of the accident that sees Stephanie lose her legs or the brutal, bloody illegal fights Ali finds himself competing in.
The acting is first class, Schoenaerts plays the hard-nosed, tough and irresponsible Ali perfectly. Cotillard once again gives a sterling performance, showing Stephanie to be a person who is strong and tough but one with an innocence and vulnerability that keeps the audience wondering what it is she sees in the man she comes to love.
Quite simply, Rust and Bone is a perfect film about life, tragedy and the desire to be loved that means a small amount of happiness can be found in the most tragic of circumstances.