TIFF 2012: Rust & Bone (Jacques Audiard, BEL/FRA)

Rust & Bone, a.k.a. Jacques Audiard’s heartrending, moreover audacious follow-up to 2009′s A Prophet is, for lack of better phrasing, something that refreshingly treads through openly familiar territory. Focusing on two inherently damaged individuals – Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a vagabond single father with a five-year-old son in tow and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an eccentric loose cannon and whale trainer at a local aquatic zoo – the duo meets one night outside of a bustling local nightclub, a fateful exchange between them marking the beginning of an initially uneasy if increasingly important friendship that brings a discernible sense of normalcy to their respective lives.

Following a tragic turn of events at Steph’s place of employment, the stage is set rather early on as we quickly get a feel for what each central character struggles with on a day-to-day basis, each of their predicaments growing more dire until they receive their requisite daily dose of, well, each other. It’s rather warming to witness this relationship blossom at first, what with Ali and Steph forgoing their respective daily routines to instead bring each other happiness, whether it’s during a leisurely swim out to sea or a bare-knuckle boxing match to make a quick dollar to support Ali’s son and sister. Given the film’s length, it’s safe to consider that some of this content could’ve been trimmed to better suit the taxing nature of the fractured narrative at its core, thus avoiding excess and hitting very few sour notes as things chug (mostly) glumly along.

This in mind, Rust & Bone rarely strikes a competent balance between uplifting and genuinely soul-crushing, thus molding it into a tonally scatterbrained work that becomes somewhat predictable as it enters its latter act. Even as messiness remains a constant amid the film’s generally chaotic state of being both structurally and philosophically, it’s hard to deny that the production as a whole is anything but readily accessible. Despite its unflinching depiction of the protagonists’ frequently awful luck, Rust & Bone‘s strong suits outweigh its weaker ones, making Audiard’s latest an emotionally satisfying roller coaster ride from Hell that has a wicked mean streak, but when it hits its highs, it does so very admirably. All things considered, Rust & Bone is a welcome change of pace benchmarked by superb performances and the fortitude to embrace the darker walks of life at the behest of some more conservative viewers.

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