Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Best Films of 2012: #7

"A Prophet" director Jacques Audiard returns to my top ten with his new film "Rust and Bone," a major achievement featuring four or five of the most powerful scenes of the movie year. Marion Cotillard, in her strongest and most feeling performance since "La Vie en Rose," 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." I will never forget the scene in which Stephanie awakens from her long sleep, alone in a hospital bed very late at night, and discovers for the first time that she has no legs. The scene is a living nightmare, pierced only by Stephanie's otherworldly wail.

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 thought she'd never use it. Matthias Schoenaerts of "Bullhead" plays the hyper-masculine Ali, who doesn't have much need for other people, and his massive, almost animal 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.) I watched their sex scenes - impossible juxtapositions of his bulk and her stump legs - almost like a horror movie (I feared he'd literally break her). Later, 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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