RUST AND BONE
Just as the principal characters Stephanie and Ali are transformed in Rust and
Bone, so the film's director and lead actors went through a discovery process
together that was not always easy or predictable.
"When I read the script, I loved Stephanie right away, but I have to say that I
didn't really understand her," recalls Marion Cotillard, who stars as the orca
trainer who loses her legs. "I was a bit freaked out to confess that to Jacques,
and he said, 'Well you know, it's the same for me. I don't know who she is and
we're going to have to take the road together and find her and give her life.'
That was very exciting for me. At the end, there's still some mystery about
That sense of diving headlong into the unexpected touches every aspect of Rust
and Bone. "What we were trying to do, with the writing, filming, actors'
performances, editing, music," says director Jacques Audiard, "was to combine an
almost naturalistic realism with its opposite-melodrama, surreal imagery, a
heightened experience." So when Cotillard worried about how to act out
Stephanie's trauma, Audiard saw her uncertainty as a plus: "Jacques said:
'That's the story of the movie: there's this girl and-bam!-she has no legs! It's
entirely new to Stephanie, and it's better if it's entirely fresh to you.' "
Re-imagining the love story
Rust and Bone began as a totally re-imagined departure from its source material.
Audiard explains: "I'd read Craig Davidson's short story collection Rust and
Bone with tremendous pleasure. Davidson is a writer of the Crisis. He brutally
depicts a modern world that is wobbling; his characters are on the margins,
outside society. After A Prophet, a film about confinement, a world of men,
without much light, (co-writer) Thomas Bidegain and I were drawn to follow up
with a film that would be its opposite: a love story, bathed in light, that
would show a woman with a man. Yet we also wanted to explore contemporary chaos
and barbarism without addressing them head-on. The contrasts fascinated us-but
there isn't a love story in Craig Davidson's collection, so we invented it."
Before love in this story, though, comes pain. As Ali and Stephanie bring each
other back to life, they navigate a world of violence and scarred emotions.
Audiard worked with his actors to portray the relationship with powerful
"Audiard is constantly looking for the life in the moment itself," says Matthias
Schoenaerts (pronounced shuh-nar). "He's not about executing what he wrote, he's
constantly on the lookout for "how can life change what I wrote?" Ali is not
always the most sympathetic guy; the audience isn't going to identify with him
straight away. But there's something about his sincerity, his simplicity, that's
genuinely attractive. We rehearsed and improvised, trying out darker, rougher
ways to play Ali. Finally, we struck on an almost childlike streak in Ali which
made the character suddenly more real to us, more believable as someone
could love. That juvenile energy breathed life into him. Otherwise he's this
social, self-aware character that knows what shit he's in and starts being
depressed about it, and we didn't want that at all. Ali goes from being an
emotional zero to surrendering to love. He also learns to love his child.
Audiard has a way of making characters so profound and so multilayered. He's
truly an actor's director, who works with the actors very collaboratively to
bring out those shades."
Cotillard concurs. "I've worked with amazing directors," she says, "But the
thing with Jacques is you feel the love that he has for his story and the
characters-it's so strong, it's very, very inspiring. Audiard is a poet."
Realism and its opposites
Audiard and cinematographer Stephane Fontaine, who also shot A Prophet and The
Beat That My Heart Skipped, evoke a harshly commercialized setting of urban
strips, big-box retail, the anonymous disco, the touristy orca show-but they
also make the audience feel the liberating sensation of sun and seawater on
Stephanie's body, the physicality and adrenaline of sex and combat. Gritty
social realism slides into dreamlike imagery, as Audiard describes: "We were
obsessed with the idea that the strength of the images would render this
painting of passions, extreme situations, extreme feelings. We wanted to find a
brutal and contrasting aesthetic. We talked about neo-expressionism, Tod
Browning's Freaks, the films of Lon Chaney, the circus and fairground films of
the Great Depression, in which the strangeness of the visuals sublimates the
blackness of reality. We talked about monstrous tales. And about Charles
Laughton's Night of the Hunter, which begins with a father being arrested in
front of his son because he has stolen in order to feed them. Are those films
melodramas? Are they expressionistic? We don't have a lexicon for that." Like
Fontaine, many key crew members-producers, editor, music composer, art director,
casting, production designers-are longtime collaborators on Audiard's films.
As actors, both Cotillard and Schoenaerts had to inhabit bodies under extreme
physical duress. "I researched and I watched videos of amputees," says Cotillard,
"But I got more out of a direction Jacques gave me. He told me, "Sometimes part
of her refuses the situation so sometimes she will try to stand up and she will
forget that she has no legs and she will fall." You don't see that onscreen but
it made me feel the part." Technically, the amputations are achieved by CGI, but
to Cotillard, "That's the least interesting part, though the technical people
did amazing work. What matters is the flesh, bones, sexual, violent
Schoenaerts trained intensively for his role as a kickboxing combatant, but not
to achieve the conventional hero's ripped physique: "I worked out every day, had
to get my weight back up after Bullhead. Jacques had a very specific idea of the
physique that Ali should have-he should be strong but not trained. Here's a guy
who has been boxing for years but then dropped out and started gaining weight,
he has a belly. We didn't want him to look too fit or
well trained, we wanted him to look a little bit unhealthy. He's a guy who
doesn't have the means to be eating right and training properly and his
appearance should make that clear."
About his character's bare-fisted fighting, Schoenaerts says: "When you have
nothing what is there left to sell? There's your body, so he fights. And somehow
he needs the pain. The fights are painful but they're very sensory. He's unable
to feel his emotional level, but the fights bring it to life, that's where he
feels he has a body. When he hits or gets hit he feels it, there's something
happening. And then Stephanie just breaks his heart open."
The sexual chemistry between Ali and Stephanie transcends her disability. Says
Audiard, "Personally, I perceived the erotic nature of the situation quite
quickly. Let me explain: there are two problems facing fiction films, two areas
where they come up short: violence leading to death, because you know that
they're not going to kill the actor; and sex, because you know that the sighs
and pleasure are a sham - plus, it's very awkward to film. For a long time I've
pondered the problem of the representation of physical love. This story allows
me to avoid the problem of representation of the sexual act. When Ali takes
Stephanie on his back, it's all about sex. So when they're in bed, I no longer
have to linger on the faces, to believe the faces; I believe what the woman is
revealing of herself, her infirmity, and it's like she's even more naked."
As Schoenaerts says, "Of course I forgot her legs. Ali forgets, so I forgot."
The princess and the fighter
"I can't imagine who else could have played Stephanie, just as I can't imagine
who else could have played Piaf in La Vie en rose," says Audiard. "There's a
virile authority to her acting, and at the same time she exudes sexuality. She's
very seductive. There's another reason: I'm not forgetting that she's extremely
famous. And that fame adds to the fiction. When her legs are amputated, it's a
cinematic convention: we know it's a famous actress playing a role. She's a
princess, a princess who falls from on high."
Audiard continues: "When I saw Bullhead, I immediately wanted to meet Matthias.
We had very little time to prep. Marion focused her work on her handicap and the
killer whales, and Mathias on the fights. For her, the arc was difficult but
clear: she is someone on the path to recovery. With Mathias, we had to work more
on his character: in the script, Ali was coarser. He couldn't be too dim, he had
to attract Stephanie's gaze, there had to be a basis for seduction and then
The seemingly positive wrap-up-Ali's boxing triumph, Sam and Stephanie at his
side-is mitigated by the voice-over which tells of the enduring pain in Ali's
shattered hands. As Schoenaerts sees it, "We just watched a film for one and a
half hours where we saw what these two human beings are and what they went
through. They're still going to have to deal
with that-it's not over. They still have pain, they still have to bring up the
kid, she still has to deal with her handicap. But they can share it and be a
support to one another, so it's a good ending but I wouldn't necessarily call it
a classical happy ending."
Audiard wonders, "What would she have become if she hadn't had that accident?
She probably would have remained the somewhat arrogant princess that she was,
unable to truly love someone. 'Thanks' to her infirmity, and because Ali never
looks at her with pity or compassion, she allows herself to let go and
experiences something she would otherwise never have known."
For Cotillard, her character's loss is a revelation. "When there's nothing left,
it's just you, your soul, and what's deep inside of you. Will you be able to
face it or will you be too afraid to face it? We see the encounter of two naked
souls who surrender to this nudity. That's the beauty of this story and these
Seeing it on the screen: Author Craig Davidson on Rust and Bone
An excerpt from author Craig Davidson's article Seeing it on the screen about
Jacques Audiard's transformative take on his short-story collection:
It all started when I knocked a glass of water on to a film director's hat.
A lovely chapeau. Brushed felt. The director was French; his name was Jacques
Audiard. The hat was kind of his trademark. I'd been sitting in La Rotonde, a
swanky Parisian cafe; in attendance were Audiard, my French editor Francis
Geffard, and me, the clumsy foreign clown - or as the French might say, le bozo.
Audiard had read my story collection, Rust and Bone. He wanted to option it and
I wanted to let him. He was especially taken with two stories: "27 Bones,"
concerning a once-promising amateur boxer whose life devolves into a series of
underground bare-knuckle fights; and "Rocket Ride," a story about a killer whale
trainer who gets his leg torn off by an aggrieved orca.
Jacques' notion was to braid these stories together, align the main characters
by connecting their physical weaknesses -- the boxer has brittle hands that keep
breaking; the trainer has no leg - to the way their lives unfold afterwards. It
was a connection that, to be honest, I'd not seen while writing it. I found it
thrilling that he'd found an inroad I'd never glimpsed.
But our discussion of such complex emotional terrain was made difficult by the
fact my French stinks and Audiard's English was marginally better. Mostly,
Francis and Jacques spoke. I drank beer too fast and tried to look suave and
then I knocked Jacques' eau de gaz on to his exquisite hat and the meeting
ended, as meetings tend to when one party makes a roaring buffoon of himself.
He did option the book, however. The option money spent well, as money tends to.
I never expected much else. Oh, I'd heard the stats: less than 5% of literary
properties make it to the screen, et cetera et cetera. But the production
company renewed the option. Next: rumours a script had been written. Stars had
been attached. Marion Cotillard -- really?
Still, I never quite believed. I figured it'd fall apart somehow. But one thing
flowed into the next and then one day I was watching the trailer and thinking:
Huh, I guess they really made it.
Some people will want to know: How does it feel to have a film made out of
something you wrote?
The answer is: pretty darn good! I've been fantastically fortunate. I'm not
worried it'll be as good as my book -- I know for a fact it'll be better. I wrote
it when I was in my 20s. I was a ballsy writer. That's what drew Jacques to it:
the action, the frenetic-ness of it, the
fact that I write in fully-formed scenes that unravel like a movie-- a tribute
to how much films have shaped my writing style. But the book also reflects a
youthful viewpoint that misses much of the variance and beauty of life that are
so clear to me now.
People have asked how it feels to have my book reworked and fitted to the screen
-- did it bother me that someone was monkeying around with my stories? They
wondered if I considered flying to France, stalking around the set shaking my
fist screaming: "This isn't my VISION! You're perverting it all!"
The thought never crossed my mind. My investment in the film has been minimal: I
simply provided the seed. Yes, there have been plot and character changes: the
male protagonist of "Rocket Ride" becomes Marion Cotillard, for example (and I'm
weirdly OK with that!).
But as I said, the film will outshine the book. Having read the script, I can
tell you Audiard has elevated it to something I simply wasn't capable of
expressing back when I wrote it. The man is at the height of his powers. Me?
Hopefully I'm just warming up. Jacques found such wonderful connections,
sharpened the characters and gave the film something I struggle with: a deep
romantic context. It's a love story, albeit a tortured one. He's taken what the
book gave him and shaped it into a deeper resonance.
I'll get a DVD screener and sit down with my folks, my girlfriend and my brother
and a few close friends. We'll order a pizza, crack a case of beer and watch
that sucker. And it'll matter deeply to me that I watch it with just those
people, as they're the ones who were with me before it was even a possibility -
supporting my foolish endeavour to be a writer without any inkling that
something this cool might ever come of it.
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