The Motion Picture Academy never fails to disappoint. In its effort to honor the films of 2012--the best year for movies in more than a decade--it failed to send a Oscar party invite to Rust and Bone, a beautiful new film examining failings of the flesh and triumphs of the soul.
Released in France as De Rouille et D'os, The film showcases a pair of near-perfect performances from Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. You will not soon forget this movie.
I didn't think it was probable that Cotillard--already on my short list of actresses who lure me to see anything they do--could dazzle me any more than she already has. But she trumps her earlier exemplary work in Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and her Oscar-winning turn in La Vie en Rose. How Cotillard was denied a return trip to this year's Academy Awards as a Best Actress nominee is a puzzle.
The genuine surprise in Rust and Bone is Schoenaerts, who sprang to prominence in 2011's Bullhead. Here he plays Ali, a desperate unemployed father who uses his fists to eke out an existence for his young boy. The brutality of his extreme fighting is matched only by the bare-knuckle ugliness of near-poverty. Schoenaerts' revelatory performance is reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando, and if my guess is right, we'll be seeing much more from this fine young actor.
Cotillard plays Stephanie, a marine biologist who works at a French version of Sea World, where orcas are trained to jump, twirl and entertain to visitors' delight. But something goes horribly wrong at one performance, changing her life forever.
How Ali and Stephanie intersect is totally coincidental, yet they are each other's salvation. And in a raw, mature, sexually charged dance, they heal--perhaps not just their flesh and bone.
Films about tragedy tend to languish; this one doesn't. Given that the story is so unexpected, Rust and Bone is a mature, beautiful filmgoing experience; it's a highly original repletion, sated by a masterwork of script and performance.
Having first seen Rust and Bone four months ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, I recently screened the film again in anticipation of its opening Friday, Jan. 18, at The Flicks. I appreciated it even more the second time and consider it one of the finest of the current movie season. If it is not the best foreign-language film of the year, I don't know what is. Apparently, Oscar had other ideas.