[Monkey See will be at the Toronto International Film Festival through the middle of next week. We'll be bringing you our takes on films both large and small, from people both well-known and not.]
It's hard not to walk out of Rust & Bone wondering how Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard was so convincingly made to look like a woman who has had both her legs amputated just above the knee. The effects are remarkable: she's seen nude, she's seen removing the prosthetics, she's seen being carried in someone's arms and on someone's back. Even knowing what we all know about digital effects, it's hard not to ask yourself: How is that possible?
But this — and, actually, the fact that the character has any sort of disability — ultimately takes a back seat to the exquisitely told story of Stephanie (Cotillard) and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who meet one night outside the club where he's a bouncer.
Nominated for the Palme d'Or earlier this year at Cannes, and written and directed by Jacques Audiard, who last made 2009's Oscar-nominated A Prophet, Rust & Bone creates the most tactile presentation of the human body of any film I can remember. In addition to the details of Cotillard's metal legs, which are touched by the curious fingers of Ali's five-year-old son in one of the film's quietest sequences, it luxuriates in the raw physicality of fighting and bleeding, as well as of sex and dancing. Even outside the human body, its primary subject, the film puts enormous sensory detail into its presentations of whales and of water and ice.
It's remarkable in any film about an intense relationship when the relationship is profoundly complicated in interesting ways, but both characters are so fully formed that either one could support a story; they don't have to meet each other to be worth knowing. Stephanie's relationship with the work she did before her accident, her recovery process, and what we see of her friendships would provide enough story for a good movie. So would the way Ali arrives at the home of his sister Anna, his son in tow, trying to figure out how to make a respectable living when all he really knows how to do is fight. And then, of course, they meet.
There's great economy in Audiard's script and direction; Rust & Bone doesn't rely on a traditional scene-based structure, but offers just enough of any particular image to convey what needs conveying before it moves on. It's a film in which despair is suggested more often by stillness than by sobbing. The score from Alexandre Desplat — who recently worked on Moonrise Kingdom, The Ides Of March, and the last two Harry Potter movies, is wisely restrained and, like the dialogue, doesn't use two beats where one will do. And it's probably the only film you'll see this year that makes very emotionally effective use of music from both Bon Iver and Katy Perry.
It's a marvelous movie, gorgeous and thoughtful and deeply felt.
Rust & Bone opens in limited release in the United States on November 16.