Do let me attempt to explain why.
In the opening moments of Rust and Bone, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a hard-living brute of a man, travels a great distance with his young son as a means of starting over. They end up at Ali’s sister’s home where Ali scrambles to make ends meet by working as a security guard for electronic stores, a bouncer at nightclubs – whatever. Shortly into his life as a bouncer, he meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), and the two form a touch-and-go friendship based on what, I’m not entirely sure. The longing to feel actual human contact, perhaps. The desire to be understood, maybe.
Ali is a brash man. A lethal bruiser who rarely speaks kindly to those who love him, and steps out a of line all too frequently with his son who doesn’t know better. Stéphanie, on the other end, is repressed from the onset. Why? Again, I can’t be sure. But after suffering a debilitating accident at her job, she finds that the only person she can take solace in is a man she barely knows.
So what Rust and Bone slowly, tenderly, magnificently develops into is a beautiful film of love, loss and resurgence, and not necessarily in that order. This is one of the best love stories I have ever seen, but in many ways, it’s the antitheses of the love story. Ali and Stéphanie don’t meet, fall in love, fight, break up, reconnect, then live happily ever after. Their lives are too complicated and delicate for that. Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure I’ve seen a love story like the one in this film. For example, so often sex is treated as a plot device for romance films. The instant a couple has sex (which is usually very early) they immediately fall in love. It’s one of my biggest cinematic pet peeves, and something Rust and Bone doesn’t pretend to buy into. Sex in this film is an after thought, a Hey, wanna give it a go tryst on a lazy afternoon.
It may seem like I’m expanding on an issue that isn’t seemingly important, but the way sex is handled in this film is one of the many reasons I was so taken with it. Because really, there isn’t a false note to be found here.
Matthias Schoenaerts is an actor I’ve never seen before. He was the star of the Oscar nominated Bullhead from last year, but that remains unseen by me, though not for long. No matter, what he does in Rust and Bone (I mean, what he fucking does) is an acting achievement I never could’ve anticipated. He improves and layers Ali so far beyond a one-note thug, that, eventually, he makes the act of slamming his fists into frozen water as gut wrenching as it is captivating. Because of his low profile, I’d be surprised if Schoenaerts’ name is remembered come awards time. But my God, do I hope I’m wrong.
One name you’re going to be hearing a lot in the ensuing months is Marion Cotillard, an actress of such impeccable range and skill, that I’ve honestly doubted how long she would be about to bring it as effectively as she has in the past. Noting that, let me say that Marion Cotillard is my favorite living actress, and Rust and Bone is the very finest performance I have ever seen her deliver. Her Stéphanie is cold, but never sorry for herself. Certain, but never precise. She’s the kind of woman who can walk into a crowded nightclub, fully flaunting her recent, obvious injuries with convincing confidence, only to discreetly cover her wounds minutes later. It’s a performance of commanding poise and utter fearlessness. She’s simply got it. And I won’t see better from any actor this year.
A final note. I’m not a fan of Katy Perry’s music. She’s an artist that has reached success doing her own thing, and that’s fair enough. It’s just not for me. Now, there is a scene in this film in which Cotillard conducts hand movements that used to give her calm while Perry’s “Firework” builds on the soundtrack. Given the context of the scene, I wept in a way no film has caused me to in several years. I’ve seen thousands upon thousands of movies, and I plan on dedicating my life to seeing thousands more, and never in all my years did I think that was possible. A+