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Film Review

Rust and Bone

Jacques Audiard, a French screenwriter and director, has done 13 screenplays, but has only made six feature length films since 1994. All of his films have been critical successes, including The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005) and A Prophet (2009). The latter is a powerful story of an Algerian immigrant, a petty criminal in a French prison, who becomes a feared leader and converts to Islam. A Prophet won numerous awards and was a nominee for best foreign language film in 2010. It was on many film critics' best films of the year list, including mine. Many of Audiard's films are characterized by their focus on the underclass and working class, close up camera work, and often, the healing of damaged people.

Audiard latest film, Rust and Bone, is a love story of two damaged souls, one with internal hurt, the other external. Ali (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) is a nearly homeless ex boxer, who is trying to care for his five year old son, Sam. Sam's mother had been using him to smuggle drugs. The film opens with Ali and Sam, hitchhiking in the cold, getting on a train, and eating by scavenging the food left by departing passengers. The scenes of Sam riding on Ali's shoulders seemed like a biblical allusion (Christ born by St Christopher). But Ali is far from a saint. His sister, Anna, living on the Cote d'Azur, takes them him in, and Sam is delighted with the cute dogs she boards for a breeder. Anna and her husband are barely making it, she working as a cashier in a supermarket, and he driving a truck. Ali's relationship with his sister is an important element in the film. Ali gets a job as a bouncer at a club. One evening there is a fight and an attractive woman, Stephanie, (played by Marion Cotillard) gets punched and knocked down. Ali helps her, and ends up driving her home. He asks her for some ice to help his swollen hand, which he has injured punching the guy who knocked her down. She initially refuses but relents, and Ali meets her churlish boyfriend in her apartment. Ali unintentionally humiliates her boyfriend, then gives her his number and leaves. We soon discover that Stephanie is one of the senior handlers for the trained orcas in Marineland. There is beautiful footage of the orcas performing, and being directed by their handlers. But suddenly something unexpected happens, and Stephanie is terribly injured.

Months after the accident, Stephanie calls Ali, and surprisingly, he visits her. Depressed, she has not gone outside in months, but Ali insists that they go to the beach. She reluctantly agrees, and once there, loves it. He takes her swimming, which begins the long road back for her. She is fascinating and somewhat repelled initially by Ali's apparent insensitivity and sometimes crass behavior, but is very attracted to his kindness, spontaneity and joie de vive. While working as a security guard, Ali meets a guy who promotes illegal anything-goes fights, and bets on them. He recruits Ali to be his fighter at the same time as hiring him to help install illegal surveillance cameras in chain stores. The cameras, unbeknownst to the employees and illegal under French law, are used by the managers to find reasons to fire their workers. The fight scenes are brutal, and hard to watch, but seem a metaphor for the struggle to survive. Stephanie too, is fascinated and repelled by the fighting. Beyond the storyline, Audiard looks at class issues here, and clearly sympathizes with the poorly paid and shabbily treated workers of large corporations.

The acting here is beyond outstanding, even by minor characters. Casting is perfect: Marion Cotillard is a well known strong actress who is paired with Schoenaerts, an equally strong but lesser known Belgian actor. Their performances are masterful, intense without being dramatic. Each underplays their character to great effect. They are both believable and convincing, and each matches the other's strengths. Audiard's camerawork is first rate, with handheld cameras and many closeups. His music, mostly original for the film, partners well with the moods of the story. Although a bit of an under-the-radar film, Rust and Bone is powerful, emotionally rich, and thoroughly satisfying. It is memorable and brimming with humanity. Only 120 minutes long, well paced and never slow. Just opened at the Embarcadero.

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