Rust and Bone

Who could ever fault a film involving extremely sensuous sexual encounters by a double amputee?

Rating: Can be seen in or out of the theater, but remember it is in French with English subtitles.

Rust and BoneIn Rust and Bone, French Director Jacques Audiard welcomes Dostoevsky into the 21st century. What you see are frantic, working class people in France struggling to make a living in a capitalistic society that doesn’t really care.

Marion Cotillard, who previously won an Oscar for her stunning performance as Edith Piaf in La vi en rose (2007), appears here as Stephanie, an Orca trainer in France’s version of Sea World. Following an accident on a platform during a performance with one of her killer whales, both of her legs are amputated above the knee. What is left for her in life when all hope seems to have quickly vanished?

Opposite her is Matthias Schoenaerts, playing Alain van Versch, a down and out loner who meets Stephanie briefly at a nightclub where he is working security before she is injured. Attracted to her when he comes to her aid after she is accosted by a drunken patron, he really is interested in nothing more than casual sex.

On top of that, he is struggling to make a living, moving with his young son to live with his distant sister and her husband. He and those around him have but one goal each month, and that is to try to make ends meet. He soon finds an outlet by pursuing an old martial arts vocation.

To be frank, the film ebbs and flows as you follow the relationship of these two damaged people. They initially reconnect as they accompany each other to the beach, and what follows are several passionate love scenes that define the film. Ms. Cotilliard is forced to confess her desire to see if she is still capable of having sex, while Mr. Schoenaerts’ obvious concern masks an avarice desire to get laid whenever and however possible. Ms. Cotilliard is brilliant as a young woman lost in overwhelming ecstacy, and you soon completely lose sight of the fact that she is missing both legs.

It should be noted that Hollywood has taken an interesting turn on the portrayal of intercourse this year. Think of Helen Hunt in Sessions, nominated for an Oscar for her role, having sex with a polio victim (John Hawkes) paralyzed from the neck down. Though the sequences lost their magic when you knew that Ms. Hunt was a married sexual therapist, neither she nor Mr. Hawkes shortchanged the encounter.

As for Ms. Cotilliard, she is even more sensually provocative, particularly when you observed her slowly removing her stockings from her short legs prior to inviting Mr. Schoenaerts into her bed. Whatever you think of the film, the scenes of this lovemaking are memorable beyond adequate description.

The martial arts scenes involving Mr. Schoenaerts, which are conducted by gamblers in remote locations, are bloody and brutal. Ms. Cotilliard insists on accompanying him, and you couldn’t help but feel nearly heartsick for a young, devastated woman whose previous job was to entertain families at an amusement park.

As Dostoevsky repeatedly displayed in his works, blue collar workers frequently struggle to make ends meet through old age, assuming they get that far. They battle to make a living while the upper class simply screams at them to stop whining and work harder. Nothing comes easy, either at work or at home, and you can only accomplish something meaningful if you accept that reality.

In watching Rust and Bone, I was reminded of what is going on in the United States today. In watching a Republican Party recently led by Mitt Romney, you see a program trying to keep the wealthy from paying new taxes while urging reduction in Social Security and Medicare, known as entitlements, which largely benefit the working class. In Mr. Romney’s famous words, they want to dismiss 47% of struggling Americans as “takers”. Dostoevsky would have felt right at home.

Oh my God, forgive me, for I must have allowed myself to wax political for a moment. To get back on the movie track, the music in Rust and Bone is frequently sensational. The original score is by Alexandre Desplat, and it is impossible to overlook whether you embrace or reject the quality of the film.

One final observation. In earlier reviews, I have pointed out Hollywood’s ability to continually portray naked women while avoiding any shot of the dreaded male penis. Since this is a French film after all, there is a brief shot of Mr. Schoenaerts fully exposed.

Maybe Dostoevsky would have appreciated that moment. After all, one of his great talents was his ability to recognize a “dick” when he saw one!