Cannes Review: In ‘Rust and Bone’ Jacques Audiard Burrows in Soul of Trauma

Review: “Rust and Bone,” with Marion Cotillard, burrows deeply for those who've loved and lost, for the dreams we had we could never fulfill

From the mind, body, heart and soul of Jacques Audiard comes “Rust and Bone” ("De rouille et d'os"), a beautifully rendered, deeply felt film about how traumatic events can sometimes point us in the right direction. 

Audiard, like most modern French filmmakers, does not want to force his story into an inorganic formula with three acts, a catalytic incident, a climax and a resolution.  If those elements are there, no one has carved off the fat. And the same way fat makes meat taste so much better, "Rust and Bone" is made better because of the organic way he lets his characters breathe and allows the intricacies of their motivations to play out.

Co-written by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, “Rust and Bone” begins with a wayward Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) caring for his son the only way he knows how: he finds discarded food if they're hungry, he steals a camera if they want to take photos and he takes nickel-and-dime jobs where he can. 

His son's mother is out of the picture — drugs, who knows what else.  And here's this little five-year-old boy, tender and vulnerable, trusting in his father to make it all okay.  From the outset, Audiard makes it clear that this is going to be very different from his searing masterpiece, “Un Prophete.” 

Soon enough, Alain meets Stephanie, the superb Marion Cotillard as an orca trainer, whose own life is forever changed by a freak accident during one of the live shows.   

Where the beautiful Stephanie had rejected Alain's advances before she lost her legs, now that her world has been shattered she reaches out to him. And remarkably, he is there for her.rust and bone

But their relationship is a complicated one.  He wants to be a casual lover and friend while she needs something deeper.  What drives the wedge of their separateness is their mutual fear.  As Stephanie learns to pull herself out of misery and live her life as normally as possible, Alain sinks deeper and deeper into trouble.  But somehow the two of them keep finding their way back to each other.

“Rust and Bone” is about how our lives are shaped by the people we love.  We cling to each other and from that the direction of our lives is decided. Audiard learned how to live his life long before he took the helm as director and decided to start telling stories, which is probably why he has much to say about the human condition.

Cotillard, with unwashed hair and no makeup, is still one of the most beautiful faces ever to grace the screen. Here, she must embody what it is like to be rejected by society as the undesirable, to lose the job she loved so much and to take a chance on a relationship with a guy who is emotionally cut off. Cotillard goes deep and delivers one of her best performances.

The audience lingered and applauded warmly and for a good long while at the end of the film, with Audiard's name getting its own round of applause. 

Not everyone will connect with “Rust and Bone,” but for those who do the film will burrow deeply in — for those we've loved and lost, for the dreams we had we could never fulfill, for the moment we discovered that sooner or later life kicks you in the teeth and you have two choices: lay down and die or stand up and fight.  

The beauty in this is that these characters learn to live with their broken bones, their missing limbs and absent mothers — their newly constructed hopes and dreams held together with rust and bone.