Throughout much of Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard tiptoes a line of extreme melodramatics and sincere emotional probing. In a film consisting of, but not limited to, broken homes, absent fathers, amputation, sexual reawakening, and orcas, it’s something of a miracle that Rust and Bone manages to come across as anything other than exaggerated. But Audiard’s gift rests in his ability to keep a straight face throughout the theatrics, trusting his two lead actors to navigate the layered thematic web he has weaved for them.
The central premise is underscored by various other narrative threads that, initially don’t seem to have much to do with anything. Involving an orca trainer and security guard-cum-amateur fighter, Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts respectively, Audiard realizes two characters of distinct narrative paths. As their lives intersect, it’s not so much out of narrative obligation, but rather something that develops organically. Many films of this nature tend to artificially rely on their narrative framework to have characters meet and relate – perhaps it’s the realism that Cotillard and Schoenaerts bring to the material, as their relationship has a palpable chemistry that rejects much of the melodrama found in the film.
Strikingly shot by Stéphane Fontaine (who served as director of photography for Mia Hansen-Løve’s delicate Goodbye First Love), Rust and Bone deploys a particular visual quality that requires immediacy – the images and general movement of Audiard’s camera evoke a feeling of intimacy and closeness to its characters. As the film moves from worlds of startling beauty to the grim, Audiard is unafraid to expose both the beauty and ugliness of his characters, along with the various contradictions along the way.
Thematically, Rust and Bone serves as an interesting companion piece to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Both pictures deal, to varying degrees, with the nature of masculine bravado. Rust and Bone’s perspective is largely seen through a feminine eye, deviating from the spiritual subtext found in Anderson’s film. Audiard’s observations are well-intentioned, but perhaps because of the wide net he casts narratively, it all feels a bit too unfocused and flat. Rust and Bone shares a closer kinship to the work of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) – with a focus on character-driven plights of circumstance; Audiard and Iñárritu have a similar methodology of diverging their themes into neat, yet emotionally impactful, packages. Ambitious and viscerally engaging, Rust and Bone possesses remarkable individual qualities that perhaps don’t unify as effectively as possible, but remains a film of notable emotional heft.