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Edelstein: Rust and Bone, Brutal and Romantic

Rust and Bone is the movie you’ve likely heard about in which a whale eats trainer Marion Cotillard’s legs and she takes up with a brutal, emotionally cagey kickboxer played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead). The film is moving, evocative, and a bit of a mishmash — peculiarly distilled from two aggressively downbeat stories in author Craig Davidson’s collection of the same name. (Chuck Palahniuk gave the book a pullquote.) Director and screenwriter Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) is drawn to ugly, hopeless scenarios, full of messy violence and bodily fluids — which he then transforms into testaments to the redemptive power of love. Works for me.

The title comes from Davidson’s description of his fighter taking a punch to the jaw: “lips flatten against teeth, mouth filling with the taste of rust and bone.” You can almost taste the rust and bone yourself in the matches, which are shot up close and harshly personal. Yet the crunching and splashing blood and spitting out of teeth is eroticized, much like what’s left of Cotillard’s shapely, computer-shortened thighs. Rust and Bone has a lot of expiation for sins through the mutilation of the body. But hey, whatever saves your soul…

Schoenaerts is so unaffected that he could pass for a non-actor — except non-actors aren’t so roguishly enjoyable to watch. Cotillard is even more transparent. She has a gift for showing tiny, contradictory emotions in a fluid line. When something cruel hits her character hard, she goes the opposite way of most actors: She goes vague, blanding herself out — which is how most people take their emotional hits. The explosions when they come are more frightening for having been withheld so long. Rust and Bone doesn’t come together, but it’s a triumph of non-actorish acting.

Photo: StudioCanal