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14 October 2012

LFF 2012 Part I: Rust and Bone

The 2012 BFI London Film Festival kicked off a few days ago but my first event was tonight. And what better way to kick it off than with the premiere of De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone), Jacques "A Prophet" Audiard's new movie?

I've been pretty busy over the past few weeks so I hadn't had much time to read about the actors and directors whose films I would be seeing so that I had a good question to pose during the Q&A sessions, nor to work on my red carpet strategy. Much as I love the LFF, I do hate having to be in Leicester Square at the weekend or in the evening, and tonight it was pretty hellish, with some apparently dyslexic zombies mistaking 13 October for Halloween. Fancy dress aside, I was surprised that Leicester Square seemed less dominated than in previous years by the film festival. There are usually lots of LFF hoardings but I only spotted one on the Odeon West End, where Rust and Bone was showing. This could be due to the Leicester Square renovation project finally being finished or to the fact that new festival director Clare Stewart wanted a festival that is temporally more compact, while being geographically more extensive.

Fun, glamour and Marion Cotillard on the red carpet at the London premiere of Rust and Bone

In any case, I arrived at the cinema at that sweet spot of about 10-15 minutes before the film's posted start time, when the biggest star of the night is likely to be pounding the red carpet. Indeed, Marion Cotillard was there looking gorgeous and sporting a lovely black dress, not dissimilar to the one I was wearing, although mine came from TopShop and probably cost about 100 times less than hers. I hovered for a bit, snapping a few photos; annoyingly, on the rare occasions she turned in my direction, I couldn't seem to get her in focus. Once she'd gone inside, I went to take my seat. Before the film started, Cotillard was joined on stage by her co-star Matthias Schoenaerts, as well as Audiard, his translator and Clare Stewart. There was a bit of gallic banter and a miscommunication of stage directions meant that Audiard nearly knocked Cotillard off the stage (particularly unfortunate given that her character in the film has a serious accident).

I didn't know much about the movie, which was probably a good thing. It was at the Cannes Film Festival this year, where it was nominated for the Palme d'Or, although we missed the red carpet. Nice Matin, the local rag, was particularly excited because it was set in the local area. Most of it is supposed to be Antibes, but the beach scenes were definitely in Cannes and I spotted a few glimpses of the Croisette too. Rust and Bone portrays an entirely different side of the Côte d'Azur. Some spoilers may follow, although as usual I try not to give too much away.

Ali (Schoenaerts) runs away from Belgium with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure) to the South of France, where they can bunk with his older sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) and her husband Foued (Mourad  Frarema). Ali isn't the greatest father, but he does at least seem to be slightly more competent than Sam's never seen mother. While working as a security guard, Ali meets Stéphanie (Cotillard). The first we see of her is a languorous shot of Cotillard's lovely long legs in a nightclub queue. I believe this is what they call foreshadowing. Stéphanie has been knocked over and is bleeding so Ali insists on driving her home, where he meets her boyfriend Simon. Stéphanie, it turns out, works as a whale trainer at the nearby Marine Land. This surprises Ali who, based on her dress, tells her he thought she was a prostitute.

They both think they'll never see each other again, but then Stéphanie gets into a horrific accident and is struggling to adapt to her new life. Ali isn't exactly thoughtful, but his blunt, can-do attitude encourages her to venture back out into the real world, to move on and to try new things. A tentative friendship--with benefits, later--develops between them. Maybe Ali is growing as a person. Or maybe he's still a douchebag, because he is still a pretty irresponsible father and he still lets his sister down. He also lets Stéphanie down, as she begins to realise that Ali doesn't care about her as much as she thought--and as much as she wanted. He also gets recruited into a little underground fight club, where he gets paid big money to beat the living daylights out of other guys.

L: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, a translator, Jacques Audiard & Clare Stewart.
R: Assorted Franco-Belgian shenanigans

Rust and Bone is based on a short story of the same name by Craig Davidson, which, from what the author says on his website and from what Audiard said during the Q&A tonight, seems to have gone through a number of changes in its transition to the big screen. The short story seems to be Fight Club, whereas the poster of the movie proudly displays the Grauniad's one-line summary: "an utterly absorbing love story." It is utterly absorbing, if very draining and hard to watch at times. It is also beautifully shot with recurring water motifs, and the Côte d'Azur making an attractive backdrop, even in its seedier parts. Cotillard is excellent, as usual, and Schoenaerts is also good playing a character who is often unlikable and infuriating. They are playing very different characters but the chemistry between them is good and believable.

The Q&A after the movie proved rather interesting, with two French people, a Belgium, an Aussie and a translator on stage. It didn't help that audience members tried to ask questions in French or Flemish, which then had to be translated back into English for the benefit of the rest of the audience. Cotillard and Schoenaerts both spoke very good English, although Audiard's was a little weaker, which meant the Q&A felt more farcical than usual. Audiard had wanted to work with Cotillard for a long time, he said ("me too," Schoenaerts added). Someone asked about the ending, which did change substantially from the short story, "because my co-writer and I both have children" and because the movie is a melodrama and there are thus certain conventions to be followed. When asked what his next film would be if Rust and Bone is a follow-on from A Prophet; hilariously, he said, "a musical." I can't remember any other interesting questions, although at one point Schoenaerts decided to pick up Cotillard and swing her round to show her legs off to the audience. This is what happens when you let the Euros into LFF, you see!

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