Monday, January 21, 2013

Grit and Gristle of Love — Rust and Bone

Rust - the creaky underside of things, the sense of aging, of loss, and the label for something no one wants. Bone - the thing that gets broken, in fighting, in loving, in the process of living.

OVERALL: Recommended

A memorable and unlikely title for an unlikely pair in this film. Both terms indicate the grit and gristle of the love story in this film, about struggle, loss, and a very physical brokenness followed by healing.

Jaques Audiard gives us a visually stunning and originally told story, with a wide range of images from the quiet and sublime to the violent and gritty, which induce a rhythmic, hypnotic effect. Yet somehow the story also stays grounded, never leaving the practical, the flesh-and-blood, and the honest cause-and-effect of choices.

Marion Cotillard delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Stephanie. At first plucky and energetic, Stephanie's loss of her legs plunges her into an eye-sunken depression; she must be rehabilitated by Matthias Schoenaerts' character Ali. Cotillard portrays this arc with unnerving accuracy, going from headstrong to immobile, from self-doubting back to confidence. Both her missing legs and the wearing of prosthetic limbs were done with painstaking care.

Ali must keep ahold of his son. His story revolves around a messy world of street fighting and shady back-room money-making, ostensibly to take care of his son, but also to feed his own immature sense of manhood. He breaks his hands on other men's jaws—another kind of disfigurement—but eventually he must channel his instincts in a better direction.

Stephanie does not judge Ali for his primal instinct to fight; she respects it. She is extremely tough, and in this way she affirms herself and him. She calls him out on his immaturity with women, but he is nearly deaf to what she says. Yet he comes around. He realizes, in a climactic moment achieved with a hushed but intense whispered cry over the phone, that he loves Stephanie and does not want her ever to leave. This is the deepest kind of love, born of mutual loss and unbelievable struggle, and the respect each has for the other's pain.

The bulk of the orcas was fearsome. The cinematography of the orcas was an absolute highlight: an earthquake-like accident, with whole pieces of a platform falling into the water in a cataclysmic scene. This is balanced by the healing and dance-like exchange between one of the whales and Stephanie near the end.

The sex is excellent, not because it is graphic or especially titillating, but because it honest, real, and done with full view of Stephanie's deformed body. After her sexual encounters with Ali she is able to recover her sense of herself and even go back to the site of her accident and her former career as a dolphin trainer. Through her healing process we are shown how our sexuality can help bring us back from despair, and we are shown how a disability does not detract from sexuality.

Rust and Bone is a very moving film about healing through pain and struggle, and about affirming ourselves rather than wallowing in guilt or shame as we move through our worst mistakes and losses. No metaphysical or religious answers are given for the suffering we go through. But it is a meditative film on the body, its power and its longings, and its connection to our consciousness. This film will be remembered for its contribution to the understanding of the human body and its capacity, no matter how beaten down or disfigured, to recover and to bring with it the human spirit.

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