Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is an impoverished boxer, taking scraps to feed his young son on the train from Belgium to northern France.
When he arrives he moves in with his sister—a shop worker living off expired goods—for a new start as a security guard.
Steph (Marion Cotillard) escapes a loveless relationship by drinking alone and in her work training killer whales.
This ends abruptly when one whale slips out of control, crushing her legs.
Director Jacques Audiard brings together these two, characters, both based on ones from separate short stories, in Rust and Bone, a brutal yet tender love story.
Ali is quick to anger and use violence. Initially he has no qualms working for a petty gangster helping anti-union managers spy on their staff. His only fulfilment is the thrill of his illegal fights.
Steph is horrified that Ali allows his body to be smashed up for such a low price. But he’s the only person she can reach out to as she struggles to rebuild her life and sense of identity.
The film poignantly depicts the frustrations of her life—waiting around in hospitals or sitting alone in her stinking flat.
Rust and Bone lives up to the high standard set by Audiard’s previous films, A Prophet and The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
The dialogue is sparse. The sex is graphic, and the bloody, bare-knuckle boxing fights even more so. But superb acting and delicate camera work reveal the characters’ inner lives.
The harsh, lonely world in which Ali and Steph meet is defined by recession and class conflict. Their story isn’t one of resistance.
But to borrow Marx’s phrase, it holds up a mirror to what means to be human in such a society. Rust and Bone is not a pretty film—but it’s all the more beautiful for that.
Rust and Bone, directed by Jacques Audiard, is in cinemas now