The Movie's Review of De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone)
As a child of the eighties, the water cooler TV show for me and my school buddies was the embarrassingly bad Aussie soap opera "Neighbours". It's hard to imagine today's ten-year-olds getting wrapped up in a daytime drama but, for me and my cohorts growing up in a rainy Dublin suburb, the sunny disposition of the show held us in awe. (Or perhaps it was just a teenage Kylie Minogue in dungarees.) Anyway, at one point there was a shock moment when a popular character named Daphne was killed in a hit and run. (Daphne's boyfriend was played by Guy Pearce, believe it or not.) Everyone was fascinated to see how the show would deal with this issue and all weekend long we awaited eagerly Monday's episode. This was to be the first time our young minds would be schooled on the themes of grief in a work of popular culture but when Monday came around we all felt cheated. The episode opened with a flashback of the incident before fading to a title card which read "Two Weeks Later". The producers had copped out and Daphne was barely mentioned again as the show returned to it's usual milieu of barbecues, inter-family cricket games and hot Aussie chicks getting wet in backyard pools.
When Cotillard loses both legs in an accident involving killer whales at a theme park, Audiard pulls the same trick but moves the story forward a full three months. The director isn't concerned with examining the effects of the accident on Cotillard, it's just a melodramatic gimmick. By the halfway point she's already been fitted with artificial legs which makes you wonder why he bothered putting her in this situation to begin with.
Before the accident, Cotillard had been driven home from a nightclub brawl by bouncer Schoenarts. Three months later she calls him and they begin a friends with benefits relationship, though Cotillard wants more than friendship and Schoenarts seems to be getting all the benefits. She accompanies him on his travels as a bare-knuckle-boxer, living vicariously through his brutish physicality, and eventually becomes his manager. Schoenarts has a young son who he constantly neglects but we see little of this character. Actually, character is a false description, the child is ultimately just a convenient plot contrivance. This sub-plot was my major problem with the film. Schoenarts is a scoundrel but one we are meant to root for. Having a character shag everything in sight and make a living through dodgy means is one thing but parental neglect is quite another. He's possibly the most unlikable character I've seen on screen all year and when his eventual redemption comes you can't help but feel cheated. It's a pay-off which neither the character nor the film has earned.
Audiard is clearly a film-maker who cares little for character and there's nothing wrong with that. Hitchcock never cared a hoot for character either. The difference is Hitchcock never tried to make a character drama. Cotillard and Schoenarts are both impressive but it's a shame their roles are so superficial. Their director is clearly more interested in choosing the right music to play over his fight scenes and his shallowness can be summed up by how many times his leading man takes a beating but never seems to show any bruises. The only reason the characters are put in these situations is because "amputee whale-trainer" and "bare-knuckle-boxer" sound more dramatic than "receptionist" and "plumber" but, as presented by Audiard, they're really not.