As the weather wasn't likely to be good for outdoor photos, I thought I'd do better to spend time instead on finding out how some cameramen and a director would craft their motion picture. Jacques Audiard 's De rouille et d'os (of rust and bone) (2012) is a film you either love or find intolerable but whichever way you take it, it's packed with power, in more senses than one.
It starts with some dark fragments drifting or swimming in murky water and then cuts to a fun-filled show jump by three orcas to the sound of some rhythmic pop music and cheering crowd in a local Marine Water Park in the Antilles on the French Mediterannean coast. The star trainer was Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), basking in transient aura built upon her skills and self-confident charm. Then we see a young man Alain van Versch ("Ali") (Matthias Schoenaerts) with a 5-year old kid Sam (Armand Verdure ) trying to hitch hike a ride on the side of a French road. He got one and then we see them on a train, with Sam whining that he's hungry. Ali got up after he could no longer stand his whining, rummaged through the seats of various train compartments. We next see them feasting on leftovers by other passengers on their train seat. They got off the train. We see Ali waiting for someone to get a cold drink from a vending machine and then grabbing it and running away before the latter could reach it and then giving it to his son . We learn later that Ali had just lost his job as a boxer because his coach had died and he could not get any decent job. They end up in the working class home of a local Supermarket cashier Anna (Corinne Masiero), Ali's sister who had all the yogurts piled up in different levels of her frige shelves according to their expiry dates, yogurts her boss ordered to be thrown away but which she took home from the supermarket because she thought they were still good within a week of such dates. Then we see Ali getting work as a security guard where he was posted as a bouncer at a bar-discothèque. It was there that he met Stéphanie, who after she was chatted up by one of the customers whom she then insulted, got bashed up. Ali came to her aid, had a fight with that man, and hurt his hand but drove her home, where she was shagging up with her boyfriend Richard. Before Ali left, Ali gave her his telephone number and told her that if she needed help in future she could call him.
Disaster then struck. Stéphane had a work accident. During one of the shows, for some reasons, one of the orcas jumped on to the pool side and crashed her against the glass of the aquarium tank, sending her to the ICU of a hospital.When she recovered consciousness, she discovered to her horror, that she had lost both her legs! We next see her on a wheel chair in a dim small apartment with its curtain drawn. Perhaps out of boredom, she called Ali, who arrived and invited her to go to the beach. At first she refused but then changed her mind. Ali had a dip and asked her to go into the water. She asked him if he knew what he was talking about. But after seeing Ali having such fun in the water, she could no longer resist. She whistled to Ali who carried her to the water. With hesitation, she tried a few strokes. She could still swim! She was overcome by the sense of freedom she regained in the water. The relation then developed.
In the meantime, Ali, an amateur boxer who won some championship in Belgian, was introduced into prize free hand fighting by his gypsy colleague Martial (Bouli Lanners), the unscrupulous manager of a godown where Ali was then working as a security guard, a type who would not hesitate to install spy cameras to survey the workers there and who in his spare time, helped sell and install such cameras for other commercial establishments, against the law, without first asking for the agreement of the workers. Ali was tempted because he thought he was a good boxer. Martial then arranged for him to be trained at a gymn. He had his first fight. He won and with the money he earned from the bets, he bought his son a toy tractor and repaid Anna the money he owed her over the months for his board and lodging. He continued training and fighting. In the meantime, Stéphane also tried on a new pair of artificial legs and eventually regained sufficient confidence to return to the water park to renew his acquaintance with one of the orcas and even to dance again at the club she used to frequent. When he was warned by the school teacher for the third time being too late in picking up his son after school whilst he was engaged in training and on top was being told to leave with Sam the following day because Anna just got fired for "pilfering" from the supermarket because she was caught by a spy camera doing what she had been doing, that proved too much. He dumped his son with Anna without a word and ran away to Strasbourg to train as a boxer. After a while, he asked his trucker friend to bring Sam to see him. Ali brought Sam to do some sledging and had some real fun. But whilst talking on the telephone, Sam stumbled upon a thin patch of ce and fell into a hole. Ali was frantic. He kept on striking his hand on the ice where he could see the shadow of his son underneath the translucent surface of the frozen ice sheet until he broke his bones. But fortunately, he managed to break the ice and asked for help. After some emergency treatment, Sam could breathe again. He broke down in tears when he telephoned Stéphane. The film ends with Stéphane and Sam at his side during one of the boxing tournaments.
It's a story of one aspect of contemporary France we don't often see; the stark reality of poverty and the exploitation of low-paid workers by the managerial class But above all, it's a gripping tale of how a certain kind of beauty may rise from extreme physical pain and disfigurement, a tale of courage, about how two victims of the unpredictable adversities of life and may help one another, with a kind of socially unacceptably "blunt" and searing honesty, and emerge even stronger than ever after a disaster, just like fractured bones, which may in the healing process, grow new tissues which make them tougher than before. Stéphane Fontaine's cinematography which often show in close-up the body parts of the protagonists, seem to emphasize the sheer power and beauty of the human physique and its importance for human emotional relationship. The director uses his cinematic images well. He uses water as his way of talking about human emotional relationship: Sam is always complaining that Ali's hands are cold (implying perhaps that he's cold-blooded?) and Sam nearly drowned in icy cold water: Ali dumped Sam with Anna for months without trying to establish any contact. In trying to reach Sam, Ali had to literally break through the ice and in the process, broke his own bones! Is Stéphane's legs of steel not a complex symbol of her as an emotional cripple because as she confessed to Ali, she enjoyed the sense of power it previously gave her when she went out at night deliberately to seduce men by dressing up as a slut in bars before the accident. Is the "accident" at the marine park not a signal to her that there are risks involved in tempting and exploiting physical power in the service of her ego? Is she not made a cripple when the orca in the water turned against her ? Is the image of Sam seeking refuge from the cruelness and indifference of the adult world by crawling into a dog house not his silent accusation against them? Why is it that Stéphane could only really connect with Ali emotionally, not just physically, after that "accident"? I particularly like the scene where when Stéphane makes love to Ali after she got her artificial legs: she pushed them under her bed but later emerged in another scene when she acted as the stand in organizer of the the prize fights after Martial was arrested for using illegal spy camera at the godown: she deliberately showed her artificial legs to the gawking men around her. It's through such subtle cinematic hints that Audiard ponders on contemporary French life. He doesn't narrate. He shows us. Hence the apparently effortless natural power of the film. I like the way that Audiard refrains from any explicit comment or from overdramatizing this tale of flawed relationships struggling to become whole. The acting of both Cotillard and Schoenaerts certainly helps. A brutal yet touching (not sentimental) film expertly told.