Seeking recovery from a painful past is spellbinding in Rust and Bone

Jacques Audiard’s new film RUST AND BONE about two people recovering from their respective painful pasts is an absolute knockout and one of the most beautifully realised films of the year.

In RUST AND BONE, French writer/director Jacques Audiard’s latest visceral triumph, Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard deliver two of the finest acting performances of this or any year. This is an absolute knockout of a film.

Raw, striking emotion is at the core of this adaptation of stories from Canadian writer Craig Davidson and although Cotillard is the Oscar-winning, more famous one of the pair, she really supports in what is Schoenaerts film, as we follow his journey in discovering what in his life is important to him – and in the process, we discover in him, a bold new acting talent.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Ali and Marion Cotillard as Stephanie in Rust and Bone

Matthias Schoenaerts is Ali and Marion Cotillard is Stephanie

This is a movie about consequences and living with the choices you make in a split second. It’s also about recovery and how it’s possible to rebuild your life into something better than you ever thought it could be. Schoenaerts’ Ali escapes a nasty past in northern France (where his son was used as a drugs mule) to the warm and hopefully welcoming Antibes to live with his sister – a quietly understated but powerful performance by Corinne Masiero.

But it might not be as easy as that. Ali is someone who most of the time, acts before he thinks, creating pain and anger in his wake. His son Sam (an accomplished performance by the very young Armand Verdure) is often the victim of this and we see Ali struggle with his emotions as he tries to be a good father, whilst also finding a new life for himself. When he gets a job as a nightclub bouncer and meets Cotillard’s marine park whale trainer Stephanie at the end of a drunken night out, it’s almost inconsequential at first. But their chance encounter becomes a lifeline for Stephanie when she becomes the victim of a horrific accident that transforms her life.

Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone

Ali and Stephanie forge a connection

Their subsequent relationship, intertwined with Stephanie pulling herself back from the brink of tragedy and Ali scraping a living by bare-knuckle boxing, drives the film and gives us scene after scene of pure, breathtaking drama. This is Audiard’s forte – two characters thrown together, who are challenged by the other in a way that no one has challenged them before.

It brought to mind, the wonderfully mismatched pair of Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Cassel in his dynamite earlier film Read My Lips. That also explored how it’s possible to find someone with whom you can exist, even when fate treats you cruelly. Like Cassel’s Paul, Schoenaerts’ Ali sees beyond the disability and to the person inside and in doing so, ultimately realises something about themself and what they’re capable of.

The boxing scenes recall the brutality of the prison brawls in Audiard’s extraordinary A Prophet and although it’s been a while since Audiard gave us such a strong female lead character as we have here, there could be few actresses who would embody Stephanie as brilliantly as Cotillard does – she seizes the opportunity for her most challenging role since La Vie En Rose and she’s luminous.

Behind the camera, Stephane Fontaine emphasises shadows and sunlight in his beautiful cinematography and Alexandre Desplat effectively mixes an original score and pop songs to great effect. It also shows once again that Jacques Audiard is one of the world’s very best filmmakers and in RUST AND BONE he’s given us one of the year’s very best films.