Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Rust & Bone vs. Amour, two French-language films that test love through physical, mental, and emotional disabilities.
Loosely based on a collection of short stories by Craig Davidson, Jacques Audiard's Rust & Bone seems like the kind of unrealistic plotline appropriate for storybooks but nearly too far-fetched to bring to screen. We don't often observe characters like Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer who has her legs amputated after a tragic accident during a performance. Such nuanced characterizations don't often come off as relatable to mass audiences, but Stephanie manages just that when she crosses paths with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has moved to Antibes with his five-year-old son to live with his sister. The emotionally unstable Ali turns to back-alley boxing after briefly serving as a bouncer at a club, where he first meets Stephanie. Post accident, the two become deeply connected despite Ali's emotional inadequacies.
These two completely individual characters come together to create a unique bond, while in Amour, the identities of Georges and Anne that long ago unified when they were first married are tested with age. A simple storyline that showcases an everyday sort of love, the quiet tragedy of Amour is the inevitability of the situation that unfolds—the slowed pace of life, the decline in health, the test of love—all of which Georges must face when Anne has a major stroke and slips into dementia. Director Michael Haneke is known for his unsettling film style, which clearly moved audiences when he won the Palme d'Or earlier this year—but despite its critical acclaim, we aren't ready to examine our own mortality just yet.
Advantage: Rust & Bone
Neither Haneke nor Audiard is a stranger to the streets of Cannes. Earlier this year, both were nominated for the Palme d'Or for each of these films, Haneke winning the award for the second time in the past three years. Both were previous winners of the Grand Prix, and both received nominations for their films at the 2010 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film, eventually losing out to El Secreto de Sus Ojos. These two directors could be going up against each other once again in the next Oscar cycle, with Amour already being chosen as the official Austrian entry.
Audiard has proven himself quite the contender, but there's something to be said for Haneke's simplicity. Rather than hopping between clubs, alleys, marine worlds, and beaches to set the scene, the trailer takes us only from room to room of an old apartment. There is a strong sense of the boundaries confining the couple's world, the walls slowly closing in on them. Audiard's clearly a talent, but Haneke's ability to evoke such raw emotion from an elderly couple in a suffocating apartment space (and win a Palme d'Or for it, to boot) sways our vote of confidence.
As retired music teachers, Georges and Anne favor the likes of Beethoven, Bach, and Schubert, played in the film by French pianist Alexandre Tharaud. Haneke again capitalizes on simplicity by lacking a film score. This must certainly work with the vibe Haneke is going for, but it can't compare to the likes of the Rust & Bone. Composer Alexandre Desplat produced the score, the name behind music in The King's Speech, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (parts one and two), The Queen, and Moonrise Kingdom, to name a very few titles on his long list. Additionally, music from Lykke Li, Bon Iver, and Katy Perry are featured in the film. The UK trailer features "My Tears Are Becoming a Sea" by M83, a band that—fun fact—originated in Antibes, where the film is set to take place. We couldn't possibly resist this kind of music potential.
Advantage: Rust & Bone
In the art-to-entertainment film spectrum, both of these French films are fall firmly into the former category, with beautifully shot scenes that genuinely capture the tone of each story. The dark, somber aesthetic of Amour reveals the fear and anguish slowly permeating the household, taking root in Georges as he watches his wife's condition deteriorate. Viewing the trailer, the depression seeps in slowly until it takes root.
But what Amour lacks in instant gratification, Rust & Bone makes up for in its magic-hour moments of illumination, like those of Stephanie and Ali on the beach, wading through water. The extreme experiences of the characters lead to many visceral moments. Our stomachs drop when the killer whale is shown—in the center of vast, stark blue—in front of Marion Cotillard's slight figure. There's a mutual feeling of horror the viewer already feels as Stephanie slowly awakes in the harsh hospital lighting to find her legs gone. As Ali takes punches to the ribs, we can't help but cringe as his bloodied face hits the pavement. When they both bask their faces in the light of the sun, there's a sense of what that warmth feels like on the skin.
Advantage: Rust & Bone
Although it is by all means impossible to quantify emotion, we can venture to say after watching these trailers which of these films is likely to have us quietly trying to stifle our sobs in the theater. Rust & Bone again incites visceral reactions, but there seems to be a certain staying power with Amour; it's the kind of thought-provoking film that will keep us thinking about it even after we leave the theater. Haneke creates films that inspire discussion and reflection. Amour is clearly meant to move all its viewers to such an end. The final scene of the trailer, in which Georges slowly turns off the music playing on the radio, thought to be his wife playing on the piano, is a heart-wrenching conclusion evident on his face. In the twilight of his life, he knows how this will end. And so do we.
It's hard to choose between such beautiful, enduring films. We'll admit, the emotional weight of a film like Amour doesn't have us jumping out of our chairs in anticipation. Love may be patient, but kind it certainly is not, especially for the pain it causes in witnessing a loved one's deterioration. Amour will certainly be a cinematic masterpiece, but we have similar expectations of Rust & Bone. Cotillard's and Schoenaert's magnificent performances inspire hope and empowerment rather than anguish—an art that not only provokes questions, but actually entertains in the process.
The Winner: Rust & Bone
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