If you heard the basic concept for Rust & Bone and assumed it was just another “wounded person learns to heal” drama, you’d be partly right. But not likely in the way you were thinking.
The focus is on an unlikely relationship pair. Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) is an itinerant Belgian single father who travels to the south of France to stay with a sister he hasn’t seen in years; Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) is an orca trainer at the local ocean park. Their first meeting in a bar is fairly conventional, but they reconnect when circumstances have changed radically for Stéphanie: An accident in the middle of a performance severely damages her legs, leaving her a double amputee. They become friends, then lovers, then something that’s considerably harder to define.
At the outset, the focus is indeed on the traumatized Stéphanie, and how her interactions with Alain—a self-absorbed brute of a guy who makes his money as nightclub security or on makeshift MMA-type fights, and who refuses to pity her—allow her a chance to overcome her initial despair and feel like a whole person again. But writer/director Jacques Audiard doesn’t build entirely to that kind of healing; indeed, Stéphanie has more or less made peace with her situation fairly early on, including a hauntingly beautiful return to the scene of the accident, where she communicates with an orca through hand signals.
Instead, Rust & Bone turns to Alain’s own unseen damage, whatever it might be that leads him to neglect his son in a way that may put him at risk. And while at times it does feel somewhat obviously schematic in its juxtaposition of exterior and interior wounds, Schoenaerts and Cotillard turn in such terrific performances that their connection rarely feels like it’s all about guiding us to a thesis statement.
RUST & BONE
Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts