Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Rust and Bone": Running on a moral Mobius strip

Rust and Bone” (“De rouille et d’os”), the new character drama by Jacques Audiard (Sony Pictures Classics), presents a two-sided morality play, with two tragedies, and character and moral developments that turn on their flip sides.  This is a big film, the largest from Sony this season besides “Zero”.

Matthias Schoenaerts plays Alain van Versch, a laborer and drifter who comes from Belgium to Antibes (on the French Mediterranean coast) with a five year old son left from a breakup, where his sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) can help take care of the little boy.  “Ali” is the same kind of person that Matthias had played in “Bullhead” [July 22],  He engages other people, and can take care of them, but does so tactically, and impulsively.  He’s like a chess player offering unsound sacrifices or gambits for attacking chances.  “Positional play” and personal optimization in his life means nothing. You can see that in the "fight club" and boxing scenes. 

In a disco where he works as a bouncer, he meets Stephanie (Marion Cottilard), who trains and performs with orcsas (Killer whales) at a water park.  I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but most viewers probably know that about 40 minutes into the two-hour film, Stephanie encounters disaster.  It appears (though it’s hard to see) that the orca attacks her.  She wakes up in a hospital having lost both legs.  
A good part of the film is about their relationship.  There is a scene where he teaches her to swim again.  He seems to gain as much from her as she does from him.  I don’t know how the filmmakers simulated the stumps, but we see the physical details a lot.  Eventually, she gets prostheses and can walk with crutches.  I recall back in January 1998, after my own hip fracture, while spending a week in rehab in a Minneapolis SNF (associated with the University of Minnesota Fairview Riverside), watching a man take his first steps on prosthetics, with the Mississippi River view in the background. 
The relationship becomes passionate, which is out of my own league temperamentally.  It’s always been important to me that I be able to imagine a potential partner as “perfect”.  Sorry, I would have seen this accident as disfiguring, and would have felt cut off from any possibility of sexual feeling at all. 
This sort of territory has been visited before, in the 1996 film by David Cronenberg, “Crash” (the earlier film by that name) with James Spader, from Fine Line.  That injury or damage provides fetishism is quite shocking to me.  I don’t like to see men go downhill.  (The  gay magazine “Christopher Street” had an article about this issue back in 1985 regarding Ronald Reagan as an actor and the film “John Loves Mary”, saying that the film had “proved the existence of heterosexuality”.  So does this new film.)
The film doesn’t dawdle on the problem of keeping dolphins and orcas in captivity.  The viewer can try “Free Willy” (1993, Warner Brothers, directed by Simon Wincer) for that issue. The orca may be the most intelligent animal after man, equal to the chimpanzee.  This provides a good example of convergent evolution. 
“Rust and Bone” turns us to its flip side (as if the film were one figurative Mobius strip) with the rest of Ali’s work life. He takes a gig as an undercover private investigator videotaping retail workers secretly (doing stuff like taking long breaks, eating the food, smoking) so that the company, over union contracts, can fire them.  Now, it so happens (conveniently) that Anna works in one of these stores.  One of Anna’s coworkers catches Ali setting up cameras just before she is called in to “management” herself to be fired.  Anna also gets fired.  The coworker comes over to the house and chews out Ali for taking an “anti-worker” job like this and playing in cahoots with management.  Out of everyone’s leftist indignation (and at the threat of a rifle), Ali flees for a ski resort.  Anna sends the little boy up with him (he had left the boy behind, out of fear for his life).  That sets up another accident on an icy pond that will test Ali once more.
I saw the film at the Angelika Film Center in Merrifield VA before an ample Saturday night crowd in an large auditorium.  The film is shot full wide screen, 2.35:1.
The official site from Sony is here.

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