As triumph over tragedy movies go, "Rust and Bone" earns its high marks by turning its back on the typical emotional manipulation wrought in the genre and presenting the bare bones reality. But selling it purely as that is a risk, since the parts of the film add up to much more by actually pretending to be much less.
Yes, it is about two damaged souls -- through the course of the film, we see this psychologically and physically -- but rather than being about the quick fix of love as a transcendent emotion, we instead see it as part of the slow process in transformation. Love is but one component in turning your life around -- perhaps the most fulfilling one, but change cannot rest on the shoulders of a single circumstance.
"Rust and Bone" opens at Images Cinema in Williamstown on Friday, March 8, and tonight at The Triplex in Great Barrington.
The film centers in on a chance encounter between Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) at a nightclub, where Ali is set-up as Stéphanie's protector and then antagonist. Following a tragedy that leaves Stéphanie disabled, the two reconnect, largely out of Stéphanie's desperation to break out of her loneliness and isolation following her accident.
Ali is a soul with no path, and that means his young son, sister, and brother-in-law are all left as the collateral damage of his aimlessness. He particularly teeters on the razor's edge of resistance with his son, and is in consistent danger of falling off with a force that can only break the kid, whether it's one of love or bitterness.
While Stéphanie embraces the challenges inherent in her path, it takes Ali longer to lumber along his. The film reveals little of the specific issues of either character, and it's in the Buddhist style meditation of all things passing and the body being in the moment and moving forward that the film excels. Sure, the characters are stricken by their histories, but that is not what is important and, therefore, nothing the film belabors. It's their present, and its relationship to their future, that we can grab onto.
"Rust and Bone" is a constantly changing film -- one moment its a movie about defying the odds, the next it's a gritty film about illegal fights and betting and soon enough, it's about an erotic romance. All these parts come together well as the constantly changing reality of a life's journey, even hinting that there are many more changes beyond the final frame that we will never know.