Monday, December 10, 2012

Hyde Park on Hudson, Rust and Bone

Hyde Park on Huudson
Rust and Bone

There's almost no substance at all to the weightless and pointless "Hyde Park on Hudson," about King George and Queen Elizabeth's war support-seeking visit to the New York home of a philandering FDR (Bill Murray) and an Eleanor (Olivia Williams) who lived separately from him but not apart. Through an accident of history, the story is told by a distant cousin of FDR's (Laura Linney) who became one of his conquests, driving with him out to a lavender-flowered field and giving him a hand job (from somewhere I heard the voice of Bea Arthur: "I swear I thought I was setting the parking brake"). Murray manages to contain himself enough to have a couple warm-fuzzy chats with George (Samuel West), but Linney's Daisy Suckley is such a nothing character (with no evidence of any thoughts or ideas in her head), and Linney herself such a standoffish actress, the entire weekend takes place at a remove, never developing any comedy-of-manners momentum or historical gravitas.

Marion Cotillard can also come off as cold and unrelatable, but her work in "Rust and Bone," the new film by "A Prophet" director Jacques Audiard, is her strongest and most feeling since "La Vie en Rose." The film itself is a major achievement, with four or five of the most powerful scenes of the movie year. Cotillard plays the tough and scrappy Stephanie, an orca trainer at a French Marineland, who loses both her legs in an accident during a routine set to Katy Perry's incongruously upbeat "Firework." The nightmarish, shuddering scene in which Stephanie awakens from her long sleep, alone in a hospital bed in the wee hours, and discovers for the first time that she no longer has legs, is one I will never forget.

After several months of despair and self-pity, Stephanie calls the number of a bouncer, Ali, who before her accident had broken up a fight she started and driven her home. He left her his number but never thought she'd use it. Matthias Schoenaerts of the foreign-film nominee "Bullhead" plays the hyper-masculine, profoundly self-interested Ali, and his huge, only vaguely human presence provides a worthy counterweight to Cotillard. Their relationship is for the most part not one of love or even affection so much as convenience and basic human connection. (He tells her she can text him when she wants to fuck and if he's "operational" he'll swing by.) The sex scenes between the massive Ali and the stump-legged Stephanie you watch almost like a horror movie (I feared he'd literally break her). Then there are scenes of Ali carrying Stephanie into the ocean, and of Stephanie alone in her old arena at Marineland, reenacting her choreography, and later sharing a silent dance through reinforced glass with one of her orcas. Amazing stuff.

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