That the soul carries weight is hardly a new thought. From the Bible to Titanic (“A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets”), art has long affirmed that the soul accrues scars over time, grows heavier with pain. That the body is also a repository of secrets, not as much. In The Gathering Anne Enright declares, “What is written for the future is written in the body.” This finds an echo in Alvin Yapan’s Sambahin ang Katawan, which locates human experience—fear, ambition, desire—in the flesh. This same intertwining of sentiment and physicality lies at the core of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone.
Touted as “a love story that begins when two worlds fall apart,” the film chronicles human experience of pain, how it leaves marks on the body, which heals in time but never fully recovers. All tragedy brings with it scars, some more visible than others, some cutting deeper than most. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts give excellent performances as Stephanie and Ali, unlikely lovers brought together by chance and tragedy. Human life takes the forefront in Rust and Bone, but here we are depicted as the most vulnerable of creatures, the most interdependent and at the same time solitary—pitiful when compared to the casual grace of orcas, the constancy of ocean waves. But out of this existence can arise a fragile beauty, a dented fortitude that comes only with pain and loss, which the camera captures beautifully in scenes too many to enumerate.
In this film all human experience is sensory, corporeal. Scenes alternates between the brutal and the sensual, often combining them into a single image. So we see rippling folds of flesh, stocking rolling down a thigh, spittle flying, blurry nipples, a lone tooth whirling in a splatter blood. Naturally, viewers feel disoriented. We don’t want to look, but we don’t want to tear our eyes away either. Violence is difficult to confront because through it we see the tenuous threads that tie us to life—risk, accident, love, the ineradicable need for connection. It is a tension that Rust and Bone handles splendidly, no matter how contrived.
In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann posits that art also makes its marks on the body. Even with a plot far removed from ordinary experience, Rust and Bone nonetheless inflicts a universal pain on its viewers, the simultaneous burden and joy of life. It is a transcendent feeling that apparently even commercial spaces like movie theaters now recognize. At the end of the screening, the lights did not go on immediately at Cinema City. Viewers were given a few minutes to wipe their eyes as the credits appeared on screen. Soon people would begin standing and putting on their coats, but in the immediate aftermath of the film nobody moved from their seats. It was a small moment of humanity.
‘Don’t leave me.’ ‘I won’t.’