Rust & Bone is a funny old yarn. Try explaining the concept and it sounds utterly ridiculous. Here goes: a sexy whale trainer starts an ambiguous relationship with a vagrant bare-knuckle fighter after she loses her legs in a freak orca-related accident.
But where the premise is fanciful, Jacques Audiard’s film is grounded in a crushing, relentless realism. It follows the general trajectory of: something nice happens; something utterly, unspeakably awful happens; something nice happens; something even more bind-bendingly terrible happens, until you’re as dizzy as the protagonist after a particularly brutal pummelling (of which there are many).
The whole thing is kept in check by outstanding performances by the central characters. Marion Cotillard is superb as the whale trainer grieving the loss of her legs (the combination of prosthetics and CGI used to hide her real legs is astonishing). Matthias Schoenaerts is equally impressive as overgrown manchild Ali, a violent, abusive lout who somehow manages to be simultaneously charming.
It’s an emotionally bruising experience that feels longer than its 122 minutes, but one that leaves you satisfied.
First published in City A.M.