Switching gear again after the brilliant yet very different The Beat That My Heart Skipped and A Prophet, writer/director Jacques Audiard comes slightly unstuck with intimate melodrama Rust and Bone. A work of breathtaking intensity, there’s nevertheless a point where so much misery has been thrown on screen that the narrative becomes predictable; imagine something terrible, and it’s probably going to happen.
Ali (Schoenaerts) is a down-at-heel boxer headed to the south of France with young son Sam. While working there as a club doorman he meets the dazzling Stéphanie (Cotillard), an orca trainer. Following a grizzly accident, the bruiser develops a relationship with Stéphanie, which has a tenderness and attentiveness he struggles to replicate with his own flesh and blood.
A grainy, handheld aesthetic and tight framing lend the piece authenticity, as do the wonderful performances, but the sheer emotional brutality of what unfolds alienates rather than envelops. The redemption is a long time coming, and ambiguous when it does, leaving this a slightly unsatisfying experience. [Chris Fyvie]