Review: Rust and Bone

Odd love story features a kickboxer and legless sex

Jan 16, 2013 at 7:39 am

Rust and Bone B-

Intimate and yet patently ludicrous, Rust and Bone is a film about the erosion of the spirit as well as the flesh, though the first thing to go may be the viewer’s patience. Led by a central character with all the emotional flexibility of a brick, this is the story of a pair of fragile, incomplete lovers attempting to find fullness in each other, or at least the illusion of each other, but who remain thoroughly unlikable in love.

Matthias Schoenaerts is the inscrutable, sort of distant semi-hero Ali, a Belgian kickboxer who bolts to the south of France with his young son after the kid’s mother tried to use him as a drug mule. He has no clue about being a dad and no real plan, other than crashing with his put-upon sister (Céline Sallette) for as long as she’ll tolerate them. He gets a job bouncing at a meat-market nightclub, which is an excellent place to find his latest indifferent sexual conquest. One of his intended hookups proves more slightly intriguing; the feisty Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), who shows enough fight and smarts to excite him, or at least what passes for excitement on his inert face. 

Perhaps that shark-like glossiness of his eyes is actually appealing to Stephanie, who works as an aquatic mammal trainer at a Sea World-style marine park. If this were a standard issue Hollywood movie, her day job would likely just be a pretense for some cutesy animal interactions, but this very much is not that kind of picture. This is the kind of movie where the lead actress gets her lower legs bitten off by a rampaging orca.

I know, not that old chestnut once again.

After a prolonged bout of self-pity, Stephanie decides to place a booty call to the bouncer, as he doesn’t have the good sense to possess an ounce of shame or hesitation. They proceed to have hot, hot, legless sex, lots and lots of hot legless sex. Ali’s capacity for emotional separation in the sack is actually a selling point for her. Her inner kinky voice wants to feel anything but self-pity, and this particular brand of cheap, mechanical lovemaking helps her feel whole again in a sad, strange way.

The film is in no hurry to get to a coherent point, yet manages to cram in a number of aimless subplots, about Ali’s burgeoning underground street fighting career and his new day job as a security guard spying on employees of a big-box store.

Director Audiard certainly knows how to create pretty pictures, as the curious lovers lounge around on beach chairs by day, or explore twinkly-lit city streets by night. Something more interesting should have emerged here; there is enough layered on grit to make things feel real, and Cottilard is good enough to make the material seem more compelling than it is, even as the plot ambles in no particular direction, least of all toward something as insightful or honest as the performances.