Apologies for the delay, there's just so much going on here that even three of us can't handle it. I haven't yet discussed the matter with Nick, who caught the first press show yesterday, but I thought Jacques Audiard's Rust And Bone was done a major disservice by the initial word of mouth that began spreading yesterday. I wouldn't use the word disappointment but there was definitely a sense of dissatisfaction – which always sets in at the beginning of Cannes, such is the clamour to discover a new masterpiece. In the fullness of time Rust And Bone may well be reassessed as precisely that, but the carping seemed to stem mostly from the fact that this film falls short of expectations after the terrific prison drama A Prophet, or even its gritty predecessor, The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
Some of those detractors should go straight to Amazon, LoveFilm, or whatever and track down his 2001 movie Read My Lips, to which this bears much more of a resemblance. Like that film, which starred Vincent Cassell and Emmanuelle Devos, this is about a very, very unusual romance, although Rust And Bone all but abandons narrative genre plots this time round, which may be the first time Audiard has ever done that. But Audiard has always been very much about the idea of genre, and in this way his latest is arguably his You've Got Mail where A Prophet was his Scarface – taking classic movie tropes and either subverting them or making them transparently obvious (I'm thinking here of A Prophet's shoot-out scene, in which Tahar Rahim's character deliberately behaves like a character in a gangster movie). Obviously, Rust And Bone is adapted from a book, but it does feel organic as source material, and I suspect quite a lot (probably exposition) has been omitted.
From the trailer I was expecting something much more dreary and sentimental, but my interest was piqued yesterday when a continental colleague described it as “My Left Foot meets Fight Club”. That sounded MUCH more like it, and though it's obviously not quite true, it does give a better indication of what to expect. The trailer also suggests that this a vehicle for Marion Cotillard – after all, she gets her legs cut off and she cries a lot, so it must be all about her, surely? Well, no, the film is actually a rare beast: it's a man's movie, somewhat in the vein of Inarittu's maligned Biutiful, focusing on beefy Belgian drifter Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts, star of the acclaimed Flemish Oscar contender Bullhead), who takes his little boy to Cannes after the break-up of his relationship, hoping to start a new life there with his sister and brother-in-law.
Getting a job as a bouncer, Alain meets Steph (Cotillard), a whale trainer in a relationship who nevertheless trawls nightclubs for one-night stands. Steph gets into a nasty fight with a man (we never quite know why) and Alain steps in, taking her home. That's all the contact they have, but after Cotillard is maimed in a freak accident at work she gets in touch. Why? That's the film's beautiful enigma. Does she want to tame him? Or, more likely, does she think they are fellow travellers – two blunt, uncomplicated, visceral people? If so, the meetings that follow surprise her. Alain is practical and considerate. He takes her swimming, and her injuries don't faze him. There's nothing sexual here, but when Steph raises the issue, his response takes the drama up a notch.
At first look, it's hard to know quite what to make of Rust And Bone, hence some of the sniffy tweets and reviews. But I think this is a very powerful film, beautifully made and as much about its stunning visual imagery as the economic script (always excellent in an Audiard film). And then there's the soundtrack. Where others use classy needle-drops – Wes Anderson in particular – Audiard works with base metals and turns them into gold (what other director could create such poignant scenes with Katy Perry or the B-52s?). The whole package is just extraordinary; moving, playful and quite fundamentally profound. If this is a let-down, please, God, let there be more.
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