While I truly believe that 'Amour' was one of the finest foreign films of 2012, 'Rust and Bone' is the one that should have made it into the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. In every single aspect, it's an absolutely perfect picture.
If you've seen the trailer for 'Rust and Bone' or saw the writer/director's last film, 'A Prophet,' then you know to expect an unprecedented, emotionally-charged drama. I loved 'A Prophet' and I deem 'Rust and Bone' an even finer film.
'Rust and Bone' is the study of two characters whose lives are unexpectedly turned on their heads due to tragedy. While this similarity connects them, because of their contrasting personality types, they couldn't be more different. It's the perfect "opposites attract" dichotomy.
Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a wild animal. He does whatever it takes to survive. If he needs food, he takes it. If he needs shelter, he'll get it. And when he wants sex, he's going to find it. He's a vagabond, going wherever the road takes him. He has no commitments and no one to be loyal to – until now. The film opens with Ali going down a new foreign road. We don't know the exact details, but an ex-lover was using their 5-year-old son as a drug mule, so he has taken their child and decided to give fatherhood a shot. Being the animalistic male that he is, it never goes well. Settling down at his sister's home, he's working honest jobs, but leaves his sister and a neighbor to tend his boy.
The first job that Ali takes is as a bouncer at a night club. When he comes to the aid of a beautiful woman being roughed-up, he meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) and gives her a ride home. Along the way, his intentions are questioned by other males, but Ali doesn't flinch or back down. He's an alpha male with intimidating confidence. Ali leaves his phone number with Stéphanie, but it will be months before the two meet again.
Stéphanie is at the end of wasted relationship. It's obvious that the guy has thrown in the towel and isn't putting forth an ounce of effort, so Stéphanie seeks the attention that she deserves – hence hanging out at night clubs. The one place that she does feel fulfilled and safe is at work. Stéphanie is an orca trainer at a popular marine theme park. Without physically touching the killer whales, she's able to control them via arm movements and make them do whatever she wants. The thrill and pleasure that comes with her work shows. It's there that she feels satisfied and safe, but that security and lifestyle is about to be taken from her.
During a regular killer whale show, an accident happens that leaves Stéphanie broken – emotionally and physically. Not only were her legs amputated at the knee, but the one consistent point of control in her life has been taken from her. Initially she's depressed and angry, but both literally and figuratively, she tries getting back on her feet. The first moment of progress is when she reaches out to Ali. In him, she's found a new animal worth taming, one that's straightforward with her and pushes her to stop wallowing. The two quickly form a bond that's mutually beneficial, but ultimately trying.
Had 'Rust and Bone' been made back when I was studying film, it's the type of deep and symbolic movie that I easily could have chosen as the subject for a 30-page analysis. It's rich in both content and style, never taking the easy path but constantly excelling towards greatness. It's a perfect package; it embodies amazing performances, features gorgeous cinematography, is carried by a screenplay that works on many wavelengths, is constructed by precise direction and editing, and contains some of the most profound, genuine and deeply intimate character interactions.
'Amour' was a worthy choice as the Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, but would have left me scratching my head had it won Best Picture. 'Rust and Bone,' on the other hand, I would have been completely content with had it been nominated for and won Best Picture.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Classics has placed 'Rust and Bone' on a Region-A BD-50 in a standard Vortex keepcase. The generic artwork is cluttered with text listing the film's accolades, nominations and festival highlights, but Sony has nicely placed the film's gorgeous poster art image on the back of the cover art sheet so that you can see it when the case is open. After inserting the disc into your Blu-ray player, a Sony Home Entertainment vanity reel and half a dozen trailers play before getting to main menu. The trailers include 'Celeste & Jesse Forever,' 'Chicken with Plums,' 'Smashed,' 'West of Memphis,' 'Amour' and 'No.'
'Rust and Bone' has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that presents it in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The look of the video quality is exceptionally strong, making it the most film-looking digitally-shot movie that I've seen to date. It manages to have the clarity of a digital movie with the film qualities and depth of 35 mm movies. Leave it to Sony to make this transfer look so great.
The cinematography creates picturesque moments one after the other. This characteristic repeatedly reminded me of 'Into the Wild,' only with less nature. The amount of detail and resolution featured in the video does solid justice to the way it was shot. Fine details are present. Extreme close-ups reveal the tiniest hairs on the forehead of Ali's son. The textural lines and cracks create an intricate maze on Stéphanie's hand. And low-angle shots from deep within the killer whale tank reveal all of the impurities floating between the lens and the surface.
Darkness and light play an important part in the design. The darkness of night is deep and consuming, while the brightness of day is blinding and overwhelming. The contrast between the two furthers the symbolism between Ali and Stéphanie. Colorization is natural, never exaggerated. The only instance of intense vibrancy and over-saturation is the night club sequence where Ali and Stéphanie meet. Aside from that, the colorization is grounded in reality.
There are many fades to and from black, most of which lead to and from bright scenes. Not a single of those fades results in banding. Digital noise is also absent, making this a highly pristine transfer.
'Rust and Bone' has been given a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. If you don't speak French, be sure to toggle the English subtitles.
This isn't the type of drama that invites awe-inspiring sound, but it sure knows how to use the mix to subtly place you in the film's locations. For example, when Ali is trying to help Stéphanie stop feeling sorry for herself, he talks her into joining him at the beach. When they first arrive, she timidly hangs out away from the water. The sound of the distant waves and warm breezy air fills the channels. When she works up the courage to enter the water, the gentles splashing of water dynamically fills the space. These instances happen in all settings that warrant it – the white noise of an early morning city street, the echoey stadium presentation of a poppy Katy Perry song, the muffled sounds in a frigid snowy forest, the non-stop hiss of a vehicle speeding down a wet highway, etc. These subtle instances of encompassing environmental effects make it easier to connect with the emotion of what's happening on screen.
Despite being a low(er) budget independent foreign film, the mix isn't lacking. As I've described, the background effects don't trump the vocals. The music doesn't either. 'Rust and Bone' is a fine example of a film that effectively makes a little sound go a long way. The little that's there would seem like even less if this mix wasn't as strong as it is.
There are few things more satisfying than seeing a perfect film get a great Blu-ray release. Thanks to Sony, the French film 'Rust and Bone' is one of those small wins. I cannot give the film itself enough praise. It's one of those rare pictures that you want to watch again immediately after seeing it for the first time. There's so much to see, hear, connect with, pick up on, and dissect, that one viewing will never be enough. It carries an emotional charge without being demanding, overbearing, manipulative, preachy or generic. The performances are brilliant and the cinematography is picturesque. Luckily, the video and audio qualities are so strong that they add to the film's mood and tone. The special features are pretty good, but may take some getting used to with the language barrier. Considering all aspects of this Blu-ray release, I couldn't ask for more. Highly recommended.