Though this is not the usual film that you would think about in regards to special effects it most certainly is. How they are able to make Marion Cotillard look like she has no legs is absolutely remarkable.
Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts – Bullhead) has been left alone in charge of his son, Sam (Armand Verdure – first film). He shows up on his sister Anna’s (Corinne Masiero) doorstep in the Antilles looking for a job to support his son. The only skill he has is fighting, so he takes a job as a bouncer then later as a prize fighter. Just like his body he is rock hard. Brutal emotionally to all around him including his girlfriend, son and sister. He is emotionally handicapped and his life is about to change when he meets a physically disabled woman.
Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard – The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) works as a trainer with killer whales. She runs into Ali at the club he works at. Ali rescues her from a guy who gets a little too enthusiastic in his pursuit of her. In a tragic work accident she loses both her legs.
Amazingly, the perfect person for her to be with is Ali, a man with little to no feelings. He doesn’t seem to care that Stéphanie has no legs and that seems to rub off on her. She begins to fight back and live again. In other words they are perfect in a weird way for each other.
After seeing the film directed by Jacques Audiard which was nominated for the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival you understand why it was loved by critics and moviegoers equally. It is an all-encompassing examination of the human body in all its permutations. Not only does it involve Cotillard’s character dealing with the loss of her limbs, but also physical combat, sex, dancing, and an intense physical relationship. How we cope with loss of the emotional and physical variety.
Audiard does not treat the audience like children. He does not overexplain what is going on. Just the basics are given to us. It is enough to allow us to understand and keep us hooked. Make no mistake this story is complicated. Complicated in a beautifully human way. Life is messy and so is this film. He also does not resort to melodrama in the way that movie of the weeks do. This is what ends up making the film that much more profound. He is sensitive about his subject matter and shows plenty of restraint.
In the beginning you wonder where it is all going. And even whether it is going anywhere at all. Then it does. Boy, does it. This is because of the strong screenplay and the wonderful acting of Cotillard and Schoenaerts. They make the relationship believable by filling it with genuine feeling, humour and understanding. Cotillard is amazing as a woman in conflict over falling in love. All her emotions register on her face. It is marvellous to watch. She allows all the emotions required to register without any showboating. The scenes with her and the whales when she visits them for the first time after the accident are beautiful. They also demonstrate that this is an actress who has just begun winning Oscars. Schoenaerts turns what could have been a one-dimensional character (tough guy with a soft side) into something more.
After the lights went up I have to admit to feeling like I had gone through the emotional wringer. Raw and visceral. It is beautiful to look at and a lot of food for thought and feeling. Complex, deep, thoughtful and marvellous.