Jacques Audiard taps a raw love story in Rust and Bone

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TORONTO—Jacques Audiard’s  Rust and Bone—opening Friday (December 21)—is a film about love and mutilation, in that order. Marion Cotillard plays Stéphanie, an emotionally remote orca trainer who, after an accident at the aquarium, loses both her legs below the knee.

As disability reorients her personality, she deepens a preexisting bond with Ali (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts, in a breakout role), a bare-knuckle boxer and single father used to living a desperate life punctuated by brief bursts of violence.

Audiard’s previous film, A Prophet, France’s 2010 Academy Awards nominee, is a prison noir that was as much a treat for actors as audiences because it focused very closely on the evolution of one character: an incarcerated young Algerian man who slowly evolves into a cold-hearted killer under the careful watch of an enigmatic Corsican gangster.

After the intense work with actors in an enclosed set for A Prophet—and especially after the gruelling, yearlong travel schedule he followed to promote the film—Audiard said, he was left with a yearning to break out of genre mode.

“Un Prophète was a genre story that has a certain mechanics to it. It’s people fighting over territories,” he said, at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. “For Rust and Bone, we wanted to do a film with two different points of view to take you through the story, and, at least partly, I wanted to make a film from a woman’s perspective.”

Also, he said, the combination of what he calls “Marion and Marineland” came with a whole new set of constraints. Cotillard is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors, which meant that her schedule was limited. Audiard said the actors weren’t able to submit to his customary preparation phase; instead, they began shooting almost immediately. The result is a story in brief, explosive moments (but isn’t that the way love stories work in real life, anyway?)

The atmosphere of violence and desperation, but also the theme of transgression, comes from two tales from the original short-story collection by Toronto writer Craig Davidson. “It’s a story of people in extreme poverty who have nothing left to sell,” Audiard said. “A spectacle of societal violence; people are moved to acts of extreme desperation in order to survive.”

The tension in Rust and Bone comes not only from the intense connection between Cotillard and Schoenaerts’s characters but from the mixing of their two worlds: Stéphanie’s unfamiliar emotional realm, to which her recent trauma has exiled her, and Ali’s, on the outskirts of society, where his lack of financial prospects has left him. The film’s opening scenes, in which Ali and his son struggle to survive the streets, is reminiscent of something primal in filmmaking, as raw and poignant as Charlie Chaplin in The Kid, which Audiard called the “genetic code of cinema”.

The director, an exacting student of film history, added that he was also thinking of the dramas of the ’30s, like Nightmare Alley, The Night of the Hunter, or even Tod Browning’s Freaks, films that “produce images that are bigger than life but also realistic.…These are extreme films that are set during the Great Depression—and in Europe, we’re going through a depression right now. We wanted our film to be set in times of crisis.”

For the relationship between Ali and Stéphanie, however, Audiard drew inspiration from an unexpected source: the animated children’s classic Lady and the Tramp. “To tell a story about societies in crisis—societies like ours—you need to mix the two different worlds, the rich and poor,” he said. “This is the only way that you can reach transformation.”

Watch the trailer for Rust and Bone.

 

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