Starring: Marion Cotillard, Mattias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure
Directed by: Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”)
Written by:  Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”) and Thomas Bidegain (“A Prophet”)

As 2013 continues to parade out its less than stellar early year films, the yearly trend of late releases from 2012  (mostly independent and foreign language) continue to trickle into art house theaters. In the French language “Rust and Bone,” Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard (“La vie en rose”) plays a killer-whale trainer who is involved in a tragic accident that brings her together with a former fighter turned odd job worker (Mattias Schoenaerts) who is focusing to keep his life together after his young son has abruptly entered his life.

Both of the lead performances in “Rust and Bone” are top notch. Schoenaerts, who is likely to be largely unknown to American audiences, turns in a solid, albeit subtle performance. He’s able to deliver lines with ease and bring a strong sense of emotion when the role calls for it. The true star of the film is Cotillard. In playing someone who has just undergone a traumatic injury, Cotillard is brilliant at emoting sadness. There is so much pain behind her gazes and stares in the scenes where it appears as if she has just given up. It’s a very bold performance in which she could have very easily slid into an Oscar nomination.

The most impressive element of “Rust and Bone” has to be the direction from Jacques Audiard. While perhaps not reaching the epic proportions of his 2009 Oscar nominated film “A Prophet,” Audiard brings his very unique style and elevates everything from the screenplay forward. Audiard has a certain way of keeping a film grounded and having a keen eye for the raw sensibilities of things. Scenes in which there is both physical and emotional grit and squalor are shown without pulling any punches. Along with that, Audiard can also be visually mesmerizing such as the portions of the film involving the killer whales, both prior to and after her accident. Along with that, Audiard is able to keep the narrative driving forward, ultimately introducing new wrinkles into an already complex relationship. Without question, “Rust and Bone” is one of the best-directed films of the year.

As a whole, the construction of “Rust and Bone” is quite simple. It’s a character study about two people who have been crippled both emotionally and physically. The narrative, while strong enough to keep the film moving, is ultimately secondary to watching a fascinating, but strange relationship go through trials and tribulations. Along with Audiard and without divulging too many details integral to the plot, major kudos need to be given to the special effects team for their amazing work in the film. France chose the very good and extremely crowdpleasing “The Intouchables” as their Best Foreign Language film submission and ultimately did not receive a nomination. Although the lack of a nomination for Cotillard’s performance is perhaps telling, one wonders if France would have had better luck submitting the stronger, but more alienating film.

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