Monday, 14 January 2013

Treat me rough

Rust and Bone: directed by Jacques Audiard; written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain

Oftentimes, when a filmmaker is both writer and director of the work he creates the relationship between the script and the direction is so soldered that trying to separate them might pose a problem. Rust and Bone is different. Audiard’s latest emanates from a controlled, simple, sensitive screenplay and then benefits from a bare, natural, easy direction. In Rust and Bone an often imperfect father and a sometimes stoic killer-whale trainer manage to find their way towards each other in a sometimes bizarre, but always effective romance. Stephanie, the killer whale trainer, loses both her legs in a freak accident and rough around the edges Ali does not use this affecting state of affairs to approach this woman with condescension or false sentiment or even express care. Instead, he engages with her on a plane that is basic. On some levels one might say he approaches her with coarseness. And, in the same way that Ali approaches a potentially affecting issue without affect Audiard approaches his sad story not with detachment but with a sense of being removed.

I shall (attempt to) qualify those claims.

The film opens WITH a father and his son on a journey making their way to somewhere. They are poor, finding discarded food on the bus is a joyful thing. And, still I never feel manoeuvred into inelegant sentimentalism (there is little, if anything, wrong with the use of sentimentality in artwork –let me stress, but it takes a fine creator to know how to use it and when to use it; there is sentimentality and then there is inelegantly used sentimentality). Those first four minutes are a great way of encapsulating the film which comes afterwards where, through it all as Ali and his son move in with his sister and her husband – a poor family just barely getting by but pragmatic about it – Audiard sets the scene and then turns to us and says, “Here is life. Tell me how it makes you feel.”

It’s not that he is the first director to leave the audience to its own guises, but the dichotomy is especially intriguing because of how the script depends on the use of melodrama; glorious, expertly handled melodrama but melodrama. Directing, like editing, is one of those film aspects that’s difficult to judge especially when done so sparingly. With the subtlest of the shaky cameras at work (so, to say, the camera is hand held but it’s not “shaky-cam”) at work Rust and Bone does not make an attempt to be seen as a documentary but it does take great pains to eschew any sense of being a character narrative. Consider: this is a love story in some respects, and not a chaste one, and the protagonists have sex in a scene filmed with a strong wave of….sensibleness. It is not romantic, but it is not garish. It fits in with the tone of everything else. Things happen…and this is how they play out, there is nothing to do but adapt with uncomplicatedness.

And because the meat of the film insists in showing its hand as something free from complications (which the lives of these people are not) the onus is left on the actors to telegraph the impenetrability beneath. Cotillard with her eyes and natural cadence are as impressive as can be hoped for. Her Stephanie is often an enigma, but never mysterious for the no reason or to the point of no return, just unsolvable in the way that you never can truly know someone who has endured much pain. Ali may have endured great pain, too, but whereas Cotillard’s Stephanie responds with sombreness prickliness he responds with sometimes brutish denseness and Matthias Schoenaerts is astonishing to watch. As the main protagonist he is not encourage sympathy in the ways you’d imagine and his performance, like his costar, is firmly in touch with Audiard’s hope of not giving the audience an easy way out. These are rough, damaged persons – their tale cannot emanate unencumbered and palatable.

The film’s closing has elements that frustrate in ways. The final FINAL scene goes about its way with such little pomp to the point of being pat that it threatens to buckle under the weight of all that’s gone before – especially that which was immediately before. It does derail the easy charm of the film, but it does make the characters’ plights feel too incidental. Really, though, in the end, Rust and Bone manages to be affectively tender because of how brutally it observes its characters. Coolness in direction is not always the technique which works best but Audiard’s use of it is impressive here. When Ali is at his worst, when Stephanie is at her lowest Audiard does not Audiard does not force us to agree or to even to feel; his camera observes without judgement (but not without care) and the decision is left to us. Do we care? Are we moved? The film doesn’t coddle me and in that maintaining of distance it moves me more.



Alex Withrow said...

Love this review.

Rust and Bone was my favorite film of 2012, and I've found that it's rather rare to discover such positive reviews of it.

Anyhow, I see what you mean about the final FINAL ending - is it too small considering what's happened before? That was my first thought when I saw the movie, and then it just sunk in and I thought, "No, that's life."

Again, solid review!

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

alex yes, the way audiard frames everything it's all very much about the random, and sanguine way of life which is ultimately what makes it work so well. (that and the actors' commitment.)

i think it's difficult not to be moved by it either way.