While so many were praising Audiard's previous film, A Prophet, I felt alienated by it, despite the obviously impressive technical aspects. I wouldn't go so far as to call it pretentious, but I didn't feel like there was any reason to particularly care about the characters in that film. Without suddenly veering into sentimentality, it remains obvious that Audiard really does give a damn about Stephanie and Ali, even though Ali is a flawed enough protagonist that we still get some serious dramatic mileage out of virtually every single relationship he tries to maintain.
While Ali is the main character in the story, and Schoenaerts gets the most screen time, Marion Cotillard's Stephanie is the film's heart and soul. It's easy to see why the film might be viewed as her journey, but I've yet to decide whether it's a flaw with the film, or a flaw with my interpretation of its main focus, that she isn't central all the way through. Nevertheless, in a year in which several bigger, more iconic film characters have gone through a process of becoming broken and depressed and then rebuilding, Cotillard gives one of the best performances of 2012, as a woman trying to find her feet again, after a tectonic shock to her system. Her chemistry with Schoenaerts is peculiar, but enthralling, and as unconventional a love story as it is, they feel unnaturally natural together.
As with my possible confusion over the focus, it's a film of contrasts, and there's much of the violence that typifies Audiard's previous films in here too. Ali's foray into street fighting forms a large part of the film, and a turning point in Stephanie's attraction to him, and the violence that ensues is gracefully staged and artfully shot. Elsewhere, this is surely the only bit of world cinema that includes Katy Perry and the B-52s on its soundtrack, in moments that never seem overwrought or cheesy. Unfortunately, some will also contrast the first half of the film, which is balanced and transfixing, with the second half, which meanders off into sub-plots, and gives Stephanie a slightly implausible role in Ali's vocation, apparently as a means to keep her in the picture.
Rust and Bone is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Rust and Bone, why not share your comments below? You're also welcome to have a go at me for that awful, potentially spoiler-y pun...
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.