Simply put, “Rust and Bone” is a touching, poetic story of people who’ve been dealt a bad hand in life. There’s no build-up to a climax, no twists and turns and no jaw-dropping end — this could be the story of any of our lives, but what makes this film so endearing is that we’d all like our stories to be told in such a tasteful way.

Rust and Bone

At State
Sony Pictures Classics

Stephanie (Marion Cottilard, “Inception”), a marine-life trainer, gets into an accident when a whale knocks down a stage during a show, causing her to lose both legs to the very job she loves. Meanwhile, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts, “Bullhead”), a man between jobs, moves to his sister’s home with his five-year-old son to start a new life in southern France. Stephanie and Alain, having met at a bar before her accident, become unlikely friends as Alain helps Stephanie out of her inhibitions and encourages her to turn a new leaf. But his own life is far from perfect — built-up anger causes Alain to partake in street fighting for money and fun, tearing him apart from his son.

Stephanie and Alain are two adults growing up into their new lives. They’re figuring out who they are together, finding out what they want to do and discovering their passions all over again. They screw up aplenty, but they help each other back on their feet — literally and metaphorically. Built around a purely human foundation of insecurities, friendship, sexual attraction, confusion and depression, “Rust and Bone” is hard to watch without shedding a tear or two.

Despite having an ordinary story, director Jacques Audiard’s (“A Prophet”) innocent vision and the actors’ performances make this film a captivating and tear-jerking watch. Ever since the world discovered her talents in “La Vie en Rose,” Cotillard has delivered one flawless performance after another, tackling blockbusters like “Inception” and smaller indie films like “Rust and Bone” with equal ease. She hasn’t faltered anywhere, and this film is no exception. There’s no doubt that Cotillard’s was one of the most powerful performances snubbed by the Oscars this year. Even the film itself wasn’t able to garner a Best Foreign Feature nomination.

Speaking of performances, it’d be a crime to overlook Cotillard’s Belgian co-star Schoenaerts in one of the best performances of his career. Already one of Europe’s most famous faces, here’s hoping this film brings him under the spotlight west of the Atlantic Ocean.

Director Jacques Audiard’s (“A Prophet”) film, based loosely on the short stories of Craig Davidson, succeeds because of Audiard’s ability to bring these tales together to make something poignant and rooted in reality. While the film wanders without a clear point of view, the wanderlust acts in its favor, even when the film becomes as befuddled as its characters. The film takes its time with the story, and features close-ups and soundtracks that are masterfully executed to evoke an emotional response. No stranger to making heartfelt movies, Audiard transforms “Rust and Bone” ’s ordinary story into something extraordinary by extracting great performances and using his camera to its optimal potential.

This film’s audacity lies in its simplicity. “Rust and Bone” is a story about loss, suffering, happiness and recovery — an overall imperfect movie about messed-up people. But the imperfection is almost poetic, as the film’s message is as plain as the cliché: Nobody’s perfect.

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