In the films of Jacques Audiard, the disadvantaged tend to triumph over adversity, like the hearing-impaired secretary in Read My Lips
or the illiterate inmate in A Prophet
. Rust and Bone
, which draws from Craig Davidson's short-story collection, presents a pair of individuals with a unique set of challenges.
Ali (Bullhead's Matthias Schoenaerts in a performance of great strength and sensitivity) arrives in Antibes from Belgium with no money, no wife, and a 5-year-old son, so he goes to stay with his estranged sister and her wary husband. After securing a job as a bouncer, the former boxer extracts orca trainer Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard, who doesn't hit one false note) from a fracas at a nightclub. He's hoping for something more, but she isn't available. Ali gives her his number anyway, and that might be the end of that until a routine at the marine park goes horribly awry, and Stéphanie suffers a devastating injury.
After her release from the hospital, she gives Ali a call. When he sees her again, he expresses no surprise or disappointment regarding her diminished state, and his lack of judgment lifts her out of despair. Just as Ali starts to fight again, she returns to the water, and the process of rebuilding begins.
In the months ahead, Stéphanie becomes even more independent, but fears that her life as a woman will never be the same--and it won't, but Audiard makes the unlikely romance that develops between these two into something truly touching. --Kathleen C. Fennessy