¨What have you done with my legs? ¨
Forget about Amour, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, or A Royal Affair; the best foreign films of 2012 came from France. The first was The Intouchables, about a quadriplegic millionaire who hires the help of a young man from the projects, while Rust and Bone centers around another unlikely relationship between a killer whale trainer and a boxer. These two were my favorite foreign films by far, and I especially enjoyed this one because I am a huge fan of director Jacques Audiard who in 2009 directed the Oscar nominated A Prophet. That film was much more suspenseful as it centered on a prisoner who manages to survive inside a corrupted prison system. This time, Audiard focuses on a dramatic romantic story between two tortured souls who truly learn to live after they have suffered severe physical injuries. More than a character study, this film is a soul study as the two lead characters find healing under extremely rare circumstances. We are introduced to these characters in a very realistic manner. These people are afflicted in some way or another; they aren’t your usual likeable lead characters; they are deeply flawed, but we sympathize with them. Like he did in A Prophet, Audiard adapted the screenplay with the assistance of Thomas Bidegain based on the short stories from Canadian author Craig Davidson. Audiard´s film was nominated for the Palm d´Or in last year´s Cannes Film Festival and is really worth checking out. Some people had an issue with the ending because they thought everything fit together a little too neatly, but I thought the final act was probably the best and most satisfying part of this film. Our physical struggles and bonds can end up strengthening our tortured souls and making us better human beings.
A former boxer, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts from Bullhead), decides to move from Belgium to the south of France where his sister, Louise (Celine Sallette), lives after he is put in charge of his young son, Sam (Armand Verdure). He isn’t very responsible, so he knows his sister can help him raising his son while he finds a job. He finds one as a local bouncer at a disco where he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a professional killer whale trainer at Marineland, after escorting her back home due to a brawl. They exchange numbers but don´t see each other again. Alain find a job as a security guard at a local store where he meets Martial (Bouli Lanners) who convinces him to begin fighting again. Martial runs an underground kickboxing tournament where he introduces Alain and they begin making some money off it. Meanwhile Stephanie continues her life at the marine land, until she suffers a freak accident and loses both her legs. Heavily depressed she calls Alain and the two begin to form a special bond. She begins to go out more and even joins Alain when he goes off to fight. The two begin to support each other, and despite their brokenness they begin to help each other out.
Audiard is a master at creating depth and pays close attention to these random characters that end up bonding with each other, but he couldn’t have succeeded if it weren’t for the two terrific lead performances from Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard. Cotillard was remarkable and should have received a nomination, and somehow Schoenaerts manages to make his character likeable despite all his flaws. There is something in the way he treats Stephanie that seems to erase all his flaws and make us want him to achieve his personal goals. The actors managed to create a rather unique and authentic relationship and for me it worked really well. Every scene that at first felt unnecessary seems to have a purpose or a symbolism later on, like the way Alain looked at Stephanie´s legs when he was escorting her home. Later he wins a fight he was about to lose when he catches a glimpse of Stephanie´s prosthetic legs. Somehow in the midst of pain, he finds greater strength, and that is what makes this film so appealing. Everything which seemed so random at first seems to come together perfectly at the end. This is one of those films that stay with you long after the credits roll, and it is deeply touching and moving. This is one of those films that is driven by the performances and the overall narrative of the story. The visual effects of Cotillard´s legs (or lack thereof) are also pretty well done. Everything about this film makes it one you will definitely want to check out. It is real, it is raw, and it is touching.