RUST & BONE (Jacques Audiard)
By Robert Koehler
A straight, flat and blunt object, Jacques Audiard’s new movie sits there, like a dumb thing. It is literally what it is, and no more; that is, everything Audiard presents on screen is the sum total, with no subtext, no metaphor, no underbelly. Here it is: Bullhead star Matthias Schoenaerts plays Ali, an occasional petty thief and former boxer and kickfighter, who takes his little boy to the Cote d’Azur to live with his sister Louise (Celine Sallette), a grocery store checkout clerk. Finally landing a job as a club bouncer, Ali encounters Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a trainer of orcas at the local Marineland, where she experiences a terrible accident that leaves her without her lower extremities. Lured into the world of street fighting by the suspicious Martial (the intensely bearded Boulli Lanners), Ali wins some and loses some (including his teeth) while maintaining a relationship with Stephanie that’s both erotic and de-personalized: Ali can’t connect with people, while Stephanie, finding a way to walk with artificial limbs, revives herself. She’s light on her feet, and he is all bulk and punch and growl, impervious, willing to allow himself to be a player in human cockfights. Why he does this is apparently of no interest to Audiard, whose reason for making the movie is, in the end, a mystery. Ali’s son finally redeems him, but it’s through yet another water-bound, near-death accident, and the whole project seems irrelevant in its gestures and effect, the kind of film that King Vidor made far better 70-plus years ago. Audiard utterly lacks poetry in his filmmaking and direction, relying entirely on his actors to provide grist and blood and a pulse. Schoenaerts and Cotillard do this, but is this any surprise? They’re arguably not good but great actors, and they’re here to deliver, which they do. But, like all of Rust & Bone, there’s no surprise or shock in the performances, except for possibly the (highly digitized) sight of legless Cotillard, her thighs tattoed “Gauche” and “Droite,” astride Schoenaerts for some lusty sex. The images don’t last in this instantly forgettable melodrama.