Ali is a single father, who is struggling to make enough money to support himself, let alone his 5 year-old son. After leaving Northern France, Ali and his son are given permission to stay with his sister, who he hasn't seen in over 5 years. He is able to land a job as a bouncer, where he meets Stephanie, a woman who clearly doesn't have things together in her personal live. When tragedy strikes, leaving Stephanie confined to a wheelchair, the two strike a unique bond which changes both their worlds forever. Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone is a film that wears its emotional weight on it's sleeve. Stephanie and Ali are both damaged souls and even though they don't necessarily realize it, particularly Ali, they are destined for each other. I personally found Ali to be an incredibly compelling character. He is a primal creature and really at the films core this is a film about his inability to understand compassion and love, even when it is right in front of him. Marion Cotillard & Matthias Schoenaerts both give great performances but what makes this film so compelling, is how natural and genuine these characters feel. There is no denying that Audiard is a visual filmmaker, and Rust and Bone is full of beautiful compositions in which it balances handheld and static shots very well. I really love the film's attention to detail, with the visuals routinely telling the viewer things about the character's inner turmoil or in rare occasions, joy. This is beautifully illustrated in a scene soon after Stephanie's accident where Ali takes her into the ocean. The water is one of the few things that makes Stephanie truly happy, and Audiard uses the sun and how it sparkles vividly and alive off the water to express Stephanie's joy. While Stephanie's sense of freedom from a savage world lies in the water, Ali's lies in the ring where he begins to conduct bare-knuckled fights as a way of income. He feels free and in control in the ring, essentially the complete opposite of how he feels anywhere else. While much of the marketing depicts Stephanie as the lead character, this is really Ali's story. He is extremely kind to Stephanie, and helps her overcome her disability, yet he pushes her way when she gets too close. The ending really wraps up this perfectly, showing how Ali is able to find his compassion and love, by supplanting the freedom he has from fighting, with what really matters in Stephanie and his young boy. Rust and Bone is an emotional roller-coaster ride that succeeds in telling a beautifully story of two battered souls, who find solace in each other.
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