Rust and Bone impressed me greatly when I first saw it in Cannes earlier this year (you can read my review here) and it has really stayed with me since. I powerfully emotional film Rust and Bone tells a tale of human interaction in a melodramatic but incredibly resonant way.
I attended a roundtable with writer/director Jacques Audiard and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain (who also acted as translator for Audiard) when the film had its UK premiere at the London Film Festival and the director and writer had a lot of interesting things to say about the construction of the story and revealed much about their approach.
How would you characterise Rust and Bone?
It’s a melodrama. We call it ‘Melo-trash’… It’s a love story.
What about Matthias Schoenaerts stood out and led to him being cast?
The part we wrote was tougher than what it is on screen now. A closed character. More like an animal somehow. Very rapidly we felt that the character was not seductive enough. The question was, how would a girl fall in love with a guy like him. So, the work with Matthias was to make the character more juvenile somehow. And he got a lot of charm this way. But it also changed the position he had with his son in the story. In the original scenario he was a really violent father and then with that juvenile thing he became a big brother. Clumsy but loving. It really changed a lot of things in the film. At the end what he discovers is that he is a father. He ignored that beforehand.
The film is gripping in part due to its unpredictability. Were there things which you changed to make it more so and were there other versions of the story? Perhaps a different ending?
No, the ending was always like this. We wanted the film to be unpredictable but it is because it’s character driven. It’s really the characters who took us through the journey. So, it is an adventure film. A ride. You just get on and go with the characters. As we were writing the characters were taking us through the story. It was difficult to write scene 54 before having written scene 53 because we were never quite sure of what the characters will do in the scenes. Will they make love, will they talk finally or not? It was really a game between those characters and us writers.
It sounds like a very linear writing process, did you then go back and make any changes?
We went back. We changed the characters… It’s always the same when you write, you build the story and at one point you find yourself in a dead-end and you go back to the beginning and you change the definition of the characters. That will allow you to go a little further in the story.
At certain times we thought we would tell the story of the two characters at the same level. But both characters are not equals and the main character is him. He’s the one that brings us into the story. Because at the accident Stephanie’s character has you tend to think that she ‘s the lead character and that’s the character that will lead the story but that’s wrong. The lead character is the guy.
It’s important to stress the importance of the kid. We saw the kid as the invisible narrator. At the beginning his eyes are closed and he wakes up at the end. The film has very strong images – the fights, a woman with no legs – those are images from fairytales and images that a kid will see. The monstrous reality as seen through the eyes of a lost kid.
Jacques Audiard, the criminal underworld seems to be a theme that runs through all of your films. What is it that draws you to that?
Because I’m a bourgeois. [Laughter]
Making movies is always going towards something you don’t know. Going for the unknown. So it could be geographical territory, it could be the relationship between two people, it could be psychological, there’s always something you don’t know. Cinema, that’s really the way I use it. I use it to look at something somewhere that is different. So I learn a lot of things with films and I make film for that. And as a viewer that’s what I like as well. A film that doesn’t teach me anything will leave me cold.
It sounds very much like each of you are both involved in pre-production, production and post-production. What area is it that you find most exciting?
I think the quality of Jacques is to let everything that happens enter the film. Not to close the thing at any time. To keep the ball rolling all the time. Even to the mix. I think that’s a rare quality for a director.
Cinema cannot be narcissistic. Or egotistical. The difference between cinema and literature, for instance; literature is a solitary practice and modern contemporary art is solitary. Cinema and theatre are collective gestures. When we write we write as two people, we write together. When I’m on set, maybe I can do the lighting, maybe I can frame the film – I used to be an editor too – but the great thing is the collectivisation of all the talents. The metabolism that you go through. And at the end the idea, the thing that you thought of yourself, is better. Much better because all the talent add to each-other. Isn’t that beautiful.
I think people who make films in order to impose their ego… I don’t understand.
So, do you reject auteurism?
No, because I am an auteur.
When you use cinema you are an auteur but I recognise those because I know where things come from. And a lot of things have been added to it. It is probably better than what I would have come up with by myself, than the original idea that I had.
Could you comment on the state of filmmaking in France and worldwide.
I don’t know if we’re really qualified to answer about that.
[After some persuading] I still really love cinema but I can say that I adored it at one point. And something has changed. Something has changed and I do not agree with it. There is an industry aspect of cinema. It’s the relationship between cinema and reality, the fact that at one point cinema was helping is understand the world and most of the time now cinema is telling stories but it’s different. Cinema tells us about cinema and not about reality. That relationship between reality and cinema is more and more disturbed. But the films I like today come from Ireland, from Korea, from China, because they tell me something I don’t know and inform me about the state of the world.
Rust and Bone is out in UK cinemas on Friday the 2nd of November.