The Restorative Properties Of Sex And Violence: Rust and Bone 

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Rust and Bone
Directed by Jacques Audiard

In A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, and Read My Lips, French director Audiard tapped into the rhythms of his headlong characters. He's showed a knack for finding sleek and visionary imagery for life’s dreamlike turning points. In his latest, the director infuses a mockable melodrama with pungent physicality and demonstrates the restorative properties of sex and violence for a couple drawn to each other by mutual need.

At the risk of sounding like bizarro world romcom ad-copy: he’s a no-holds-barred streetfighter who's been bouncing between jobs since spiriting his kid away from a drug-world mom; she’s a killer-whale trainer who falls into depression after losing both legs in a monstrous public accident. They meet when Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), moping and nearly suicidal, rings up Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), remembering him from her clubbing days. As Ali’s libido leads them to become what the French call “fuck buddies” and then something more, his matter-of-fact sexuality helps her get back in touch with her innate physicality.

It’s an explicit fleshing out of a hoary premise about romantic rejuvenation. The two aren't an odd couple: they share a visceral grounding in the physical as well as a fierce streak (only lost momentarily in Stephanie’s case). Their stories have perhaps predictable but satisfying ways of dovetailing as Ali runs into trouble; his lifestyle—illicit competitive fighting as a violent outlet, sometimes dodgy part-time work—can’t help him through the delicacies and risks of childrearing.

Cotillard, who is so much better in her native language, and Schoenaerts, barreling along in a vein similar to last year’s Bullhead, have a lived-in calm in one another’s presence. There's a super-crisply mixed soundtrack of Alexandre Desplat and Bon Iver, but it’s the film’s push from darkness into light, by turns bracing and unforgiving, that’s perhaps Audiard’s signature—and most symbolic—move.

Opens November 23

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