Welcome to our eleventh and final piece of  coverage of this year’s London Film Festival. And on what a film to end with…

Jacques Audiard is a formidable talent. Prior to Rust & Bone, his seventh feature length picture, the French filmmaker was three for three in the post-millenial landscape. While Un prophète and The Beat That My Heart Skipped helped to cement Audiard’s position as one of the pre-eminent contemporary French filmmakers, it is 2001’s Read My Lips that his latest work shares the greatest of symmetry with. Rust & Bone is something of a diversion even on those terms though. For one thing, it’s not a crime drama, a first for the director, and while Read My Lips was in itself something of a skewed romance, the brutal nature of Rust & Bone places it in a different place entirely. 

Rust & Bone features a pair of protagonists. Stéphanie, a killer whale trainer whose life is struck by tragedy forms an unlikely bond with Ali, a man whose own life is one tinged with affliction. And herein lies the greatest problem with Rust & Bone, for on paper, or even spoken out aloud, the premise of the movie sounds preposterous, or even hokey. And yet, in spite of this the film itself is executed in such a manner that it’s little short of a bona-fide masterpiece. Audiard’s tale of misfortunate infinitum plays out like Martin Scorsese via Marcel Carné, a modern day fairytale of heightened reality, with what might come across as mawkish melodrama in other hands spun in to something genuinely affecting and marvellous instead. 

The split protagonist approach to Rust & Bone means that the film itself has a converging narrative of two halves for the first two acts of the movie. As Stéphanie and Ali face their own personal affectations fate draws them together, and, again, while this could come across as trite or convenient Audiard manages to keep it on track. The films central performance impress greatly, with Matthias Schoenaerts something of a revelation as Ali, with the Belgian actor convincingly portraying the complex balance of sympathy and aggression, while Marion Cotillard takes the kind of figure that would usually be frowned upon were it from the Hollywood stable and made wholly thoughtful and sincere. What might ordinarily be written off as a “prestige” performance aiming for awards never feels as so when filtered through Cotillard.

Audiard’s camera acts as voyeur for large sections of the film, which is in keeping with the intimate areas in which the narrative flows. Offsetting the affectionate nature of these sections are unsettling bursts of violence, as the reality of the world makes it’s own voice heard. Audiard shoots intensity from a tight angle, placing the viewer firmly within the uncomfortable, which is emphasised all the more by a keen focus on movement that fills the films opening act. As per the nature of the story at hand, hands and legs are accentuated, with each representing the physical attributes of both protagonists plights. The spiritual element present in Un prophète is replaced here by an almost magical tone, that riffs on the poetic realists, and again, drawing similarities to Scorsese, Audiard reappropriates a contemporary pop song to great effect: in Katy Perry’s Fireworks Audiard drew one of the great emotive reactions of the London Film Festival 2012.