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Rust and Bone

Year: 2012
Production Co: Why Not Productions
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writer: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts

This is something of a return to where Marion Cottilard came from, not just because this film's in her native French like her breakout role in La Vie En Rose, but because it's an independent foreign film that's more about heart and the unexpected than dreams-within-dreams, superheroes or apocalyptic thrillers.

The film starts by introducing us to Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a fairly deadbeat dad with a young son who drifts between jobs and arrives to live with his sister, none too happy to put him and his hungry kid up.

Taking a job as a bouncer, Ali meets Stephanie (Cottilard) at work, taking her home after she's injured in a fight in his nightclub. He gives her his number and tells her to call if she needs him, thinking no more about it.

But we don't think such a poised, accomplished woman will have any more need for the brutish Ali than she does. Stephanie is a marine biologist and killer whale keeper at a water park where part of her job is standing on a stage in a wetsuit waving to the rapt crowds watching her animals perform a variety of tricks.

Not long after the nightclub scrape, Stephanie's life changes in an instant. One of the giant beasts launches itself up onto the wrong side of the stage during a show. A coworker yells a warning as the whale slides towards Stephanie, who's off camera.

The next image is the haunting sight of the remains of the stage, the huge LCD screen and Stephanie floating slowly down through the water, a small pool of blood drifting around her body as she sinks. Stephanie wakes up in hospital later to discover the worst – she's lost both legs at the knees.

After bringing herself gradually back to life from the resulting depression, Stephanie calls Ali. You'll wonder why (and she seems not to have much idea either), but he agrees to help her without hesitation, carrying her on his shoulders into the sea where she can have her first swim in her beloved ocean in a long time.

The two form a kind of bond, Ali providing Stephanie with mobility and even casual sex now and then, expecting nothing in return. She becomes more interested in his life, which now includes underground amateur boxing. Stephanie gets artificial limbs and has to watch as Ali's new career takes him further away from her, not realising how much he meant to her.

It's an odd couple love story, and the most beautiful scene in the film is where Stephanie climbs along Ali's body in bed and starts kissing him, something she's forbidden in their affair thus far. Whether you thought the sight of an amputee making love could be weird or not, you can't deny the beauty of the moment. It shows you that love conquers all in the least gilded Hollywood way you've seen in a long time.

Special mention has to go to the special effects team who animated Cottilard's lower legs out of each frame. We saw a similar effect on Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, but the visuals of Cottilard's stumps against completely natural settings (moving against a background, in the water, etc) are astoundingly real.

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