I was asked by my friends at The Muriel Awards to write a short piece on my favorite film of 2012 – Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone. I was happy to contribute once again this year and have been enjoying reading some of the other impassioned pleas for the unrecognized and underseen over at their site. Click the more tag to read my piece on Rust and Bone.
Morality in a Jacques Audiard film is relative. He builds his stories on the assumption that the world is dangerous, violent and corrupt then lets the action play out from there. He is interested in extreme circumstances and the people you find there. His characters are highly functional outsiders; living, breathing contradictions at odds with themselves and the world around them who often hold secret aspirations they’ll do anything to protect. He finds beauty in unlikely places and twists undeniably attractive people, real life movie stars, into dark poses that makes them almost unrecognizable. Marion Cotillard is one of the most beautiful women in the world but it’s hard to imagine her looking less glamorous than she does in Rust and Bone.
The script was loosely adapted from a book of short stories by Craig Davidson with Audiard’s long-time collaborator Thomas Bidegain but it’s obvious that only a director with a finely tuned sense of cinema, not to mention some serious balls, could push this material where it needed to go. It’s brutal territory both mentally and physically, for the characters and the actors who play them. In fact, without the flesh and blood that Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenarts sacrifice to these roles (at times literally) I can envision Rust and Bone being an outright failure. Fortunately they bring honesty and depth to an orca trainer and street fighter respectively, giving life to two characters it’s fair to say we’ve never seen in quite the same way on a movie screen. The terms of their relationship are laid out when Stephanie, treating her untamed lover like the whales she used to train, tells him that they must proceed with ‘delicacy’ – ‘not like animals.’ They seem like an unlikely couple from their first meeting which makes their developing romance more interesting and the redemption they find in each other ultimately more rewarding because the conclusion they arrive at doesn’t come easy. Audiard should also be credited for using CGI as a necessity to serve a very real story, not a single super hero or spaceship in sight.
Audiard has been called the French Scorsese, an easy headline that has some truth to it. Audiard’s films have a confident chaos that calls to mind Scorsese’s better work, carefully scripted but always given room to move. They are both interested in the complexity of human nature, taking characters from the street and making them universal. They both depend on big moments and music cues that don’t require Shazam. Neither shies away from the realities of violence and their visceral style of filmmaking is never afraid to make an audience uncomfortable, if only to make the eventual pay off that much sweeter. In a different director’s hands (Clint Eastwood for example) this same script could have ended up being about overcoming disability, or life lessons learned from boxing or worse yet heart-tugging Oscar bait and I hope Audiard fights any attempt at an English language remake tooth and nail. Watching his films can feel like chewing aspirin without water to wash it down, it’s bitter medicine, but once you’ve developed a taste for his work there are few directors who can offer an audience the same kind of hard-fought reward. It’s a shame American audiences are so averse to subtitles because simply by switching Rust and Bone from French to English would have doubled the attention it got without a single compromise.