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TELLURIDE, Colo. — Jacques Audiard‘s French-language drama Rust and Bone, which stars French Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Belgian up-and-comer Matthias Schoenaerts, had its North American premiere Saturday night. Cotillard was in town — after taking four flights to get from Paris to Telluride — to attend not only the screening but also an intimate dinner hosted by Sony Pictures Classics (which got involved with the film at the beginning of its production, long before its world premiere in Cannes back in May) as well as a career tribute given to her by the festival and moderated by THR‘s film critic Todd McCarthy.
The film itself was very well received here, as it has been overseas, and I think it has a very strong shot at scoring Oscar nominations for both best foreign language film (unless France instead submits the more widely-accessible but less artistically-ambitious The Intouchables) and best actress. If it does secure a best actress slot, Cotillard, a best actress winner for 2007’s La vie en rose, would become only the fifth woman — after Isabelle Adjani, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren and Liv Ullmann — to earn multiple acting noms for performances given in a foreign language. Schoenaerts, meanwhile, deserves every bit as much attention for his brooding and brutish performance, which — like his work in last year’s Bullhead, a best foreign language Oscar nominee from Belgium — has earned him many comparisons to a young Marlon Brando. But the best actor category is jam-packed with big names this year, so he’s a long shot.
Audiard, who is best known for directing the widely-acclaimed French best foreign language Oscar nominee Un Prophet (2009), also co-wrote this film with Thomas Bidegain. It tells the story of two people, a whale trainer (Cotillard) and a frequently-unemployed single father who is staying with his sister and trying to make something of himself (Schoenaerts). They are both broken in different ways — she physically (after experiencing a terrible accident at work) and he emotionally (he vents his internal rage and pays the bills by competing in illegal bare-knuckle streetfights). They first cross paths before her accident and his streetfights; then they reunite afterwards and find that they can make each other feel a little better.
Virtually every moment of the film is visually beautiful and poetic, but the two actors each have one scene that seems to me particularly worthy of highlighting. (Spoiler alert.) For Cotillard, the moment comes early in the film, when she awakens in an empty hospital room and discovers, to her horror, that her legs have been amputated and her life will never be the same. For Schoenaerts, the wait is a bit longer, but well worth it: near the end of the film, while Schoenaerts’ character is spending time with his son and trying to prove to his sister that he is capable of being a responsible father, his son literally falls into a potentially deadly situation that requires the father to apply his physical strength for a truly important reason for perhaps the first time.
I sat next to Cotillard — who, even on no sleep, is drop-dead-gorgeous — for a chunk of the Sony Classics dinner, and we got to discussing, of all things, Ronald Reagan. I told her that I’m a lover of old movies — she said that she is, as well — and that while watching her hospital scene in Rust and Bone, I couldn’t help but think of the moment in the 1942 film King’s Row when Reagan awakens to discover that his legs have been amputated and shrieks, “Where’s the rest of me?!” Everything about that moment of horror — the initial look of confusion, the panicked realization, and the hysterical reaction — reminded me a lot of her scene, so I had to know if she was familiar with it and/or regarded it as an inspiration. She told me that she had never heard of it before — SPC co-chief Michael Barker, a film history buff in his own right, felt confident that Audiard had, though — and was now fascinated to check it out, so I emailed her — and am now sharing with you — a YouTube clip that includes that scene, starting at the 1:04 mark.
For my money, Cotillard’s scene — and those that follow it and show her without her legs, which were achieved using CGI techniques that required her to wear a grey sock — is every bit as good, and probably better.
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