Review: Rust and Bone (Audiard, 2012)

Still from the movie Rust and Bone

What a misleading trailer (I’m not even going to post it). Watching it created preconceptions about the movie, which turned out to be false and caused me to spend the entire film looking for the story that wasn’t there. Meanwhile, the story that was there had plenty of good elements on its own, if I had only been paying attention to them. A lesson.

Stupendous acting by Marion Cotillard, who was nominated for a slew of awards for her role as a recovering accident victim. “Victim” is actually the wrong word to use in this scenario because a victim is precisely what Cotillard’s character Stéphanie is not. She and the music (the finest two songs of which are from the Wisconsinite indie folk band Bon Iver and not on the official soundtrack) are the best parts of the film.

So, above caveat aside, I found the story a little loose and sloppy. Writers Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain (the team that created A Prophet, which I still haven’t seen) bring us two distractingly fascinating vocations–orca trainer (Stéphanie) and ultimate fighter (Alain van Versch, played by Matthias Schoenaerts)–but the screenplay gives scant attention to either of these. It reminds me of Chekhov’s gun, or the idea that what’s put into a narrative must be essential to the narrative. Specifically, Chekhov said, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” (Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 deliberately flouts this command, but one might argue that the discussion of Chekhov and the gun are essential to 1Q84 and therefore actually submit to the principle. But 1Q84 has so many other problems it’s not a good example anyway.) If Stéphanie were anything but an orca trainer, would the story still work? Absolutely. What if Alain weren’t an ultimate fighter? A little more difficult, but still plausible.

Jacques and Jack

Jacques and Jack

This lack of focus is evident in the emotional tenor of the film as well. Director Audiard (by the way, striking resemblance to a younger, thinner Jack Nicholson, no?) switches us back and forth between Stéphanie and Alain’s perspectives but never lets us truly absorb either. We’re rather haphazardly jumped from one plot point to the next, glossing over what must have been difficult struggles for the characters (albeit ones maybe over-represented in films). A few moments of emotional truth aside, the film stays at a pretty ho-hum level throughout.

It’s hard for me to get excited about Rust and Bone, but neither do I condemn it. Good to see, but not that memorable.

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