Like those other two movies, De rouille et d'os is about strong characters, fighting their way through life against all odds. One of those characters is played by Schoenaerts, the Flemish actor who is on the verge of his breakthrough in international cinema. At least, that's what everyone in Cannes was talking about. Next year's American remake of the Flemish blockbuster Loft might well be his ticket to Hollywood.
In De rouille et d'os, Schoenaerts basically plays the same sort of character as he did in Bullhead: lots of muscles, little brainpower. In this movie, he succeeds in embarrassing, hurting or insulting everyone he cares about: his child, his sister and his girlfriend. He seems incapable of showing the least bit of empathy. His rude and insensitive way of treating other people would almost be funny, if it weren't for the sometimes dramatic consequences.
The story is about the relationship between this emotionally handicapped man and a physically handicapped woman. Although they have almost opposite characters, they find each other in their mutual experience of being different from the rest. His lack of sympathy and understanding is almost an advantage for her. She lost her legs, but he doesn't ask her how she copes or if she wants a shoulder to cry on. No, he asks her if she wants to take a dive in the ocean with him. 'Do you realize what you're saying?', she replies. He answers by carrying her in his arms to the sea and letting her discover that she can swim by using only her arms.
Audiard knows how to let his two lead actors excel. Schoenaerts is completely believable as a primitive macho who means well but screws everything up nevertheless. And Marion Cotillard is cast perfectly as a strong-willed woman who refuses to be confined to a wheelchair. I was amazed by her physical appearance as an amputee - you'd swear that she had her legs cut off in order to be able to make this movie. The visual effects are awesome.
But apart from the acting achievements, Audiard also has some nice visual treats. Most of the time, the movie focuses on the actors, but now and then aesthetics take over. The scene with Cotillard in an orca show is an example of superb directing: the huge animals are filmed in such a way, that it becomes clear something terrible is about to happen. De rouille et d'os shows superior craftsmanship on all levels.