Watching films in French brings back my high school language lessons. In my limited halting French, I imagined trying to explain what I thought of a film which had been powerful; sometimes tender, but also gut wrenching – and came up with the phrase “it is a film of the heart… and the stomach.”
DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING THE FILM
I’d hate to spoil those punches by hinting at them to anyone who’s not seen it – I always enjoy letting a film unfold with its surprises just as they should be – unknown. The reviews I read did not give it away, for once. So don’t let this. (I hadn’t seen the Telegraph who ruined it in the first line, and I can’t bear to comment on the Mail).
There are two main turning points which are shown from underwater, wonderfully stylised, one of which does not make full sense until the next scene, when our horror on discovery is also the character’s.
I’ve thought back to my post on Flickering Myth, Triumph or Tragedy, also about women who endure horrendous things in films. Which is this? Picturehouses brochure said that Rust and Bone’s director Jacques Audiard likes to ruminate on the randomness of casual fate to alter lives. But I do not believe that fate is arbitrary.
Unlike the topics of my Flickering Myth post, this is not a true story. My way of making sense of it, real or not, would be to see what Marion Cotillard’s character Stephanie gains from the… orca episode. (Did anyone else wake up the next day and check they still had legs? Or want to make more fuss of them after seeing this?) Yes, you read right… I think one could gain from such a horror, though it’s easier to see when it’s not touching your life.
Looking at life like a story is a very helpful way of understanding it. Yes it does imply an author. When planning a story, the writer is always thinking about development. There must be an arc, even if it is a dipping , swirling one, to each character’s journey.
Ali’s character clearly benefits from meeting Stephanie. He’s irresponsible and accidentally brutal and a bit feckless. By the end, those prize fighting fists that once banged his son to shut him up have been damaged in fighting through the ice to pull that same disregarded son out of a frozen river. Ali learns to cry. He learns to tell a girl he loves her, instead of just having casual sex; he learns gentleness. He starts to learn about having a relationship and being a father. I was about to add “financial responsibility” to that list, but realised it sounds the kind of conventional idea of growing up that I despise.
Ali’s benefits to Stephanie are also obvious: a woman who has lost any passion for living is persuaded to leave her disabled adapted home and enjoy swimming. She gains confidence and shines again physically. He allows her… I am not sure how I would term the sex. It seemed the most unappealing offer – “I’ll show you if it still works”… and without any intimacy or build up or affection, performs the minimal. Stephanie blossoms there too, and is later seen astride him, her thighs tattooed with “Left and right” in military stencil – an odd way of embracing those stumps. She goes back to Marineworld where her legs were last seen and even speaks with a killer whale and meets her old colleagues. She learns to walk, and then, kind of dance. She too gains a boyfriend… but her new finances come from his fighting and being made the betting organiser of illegal fights, a gap left by a criminal whose entrepreneurial activities sack Ali’s sister, Anna, who has been supporting Ali and his son.
But I have two queries: one is how far that arc for both of them really goes, because I’m not very satisfied that violent, ruleless fighting is a freeing career for either of them. And to see if Stephanie gains something from her unwitting Jaws incident, we have to know more about the life she left behind the day she work up in the hospital.
Tragedy is an opportunity, and it can be a way forward out of something (again easier to say hypothetically, but this is how I try to think). Stephanie’s erm, situation is well known – it hits national television (perhaps further) – but unlike Amy Eckhart or Christine from Changeling, her achievements are not not. Not everyone suffering (and that’ll be most of us) will became famed for what we do with it. Stephanie’s story is inspiring – to see her get out of bed and then have an active life again – but not to enter a demimonde with a lunk.
What little we do see of her full limbed previous life is her killer whale training, her not too nice seeming boyfriend, Simon, and that she goes to a nightclub alone and gets into a fight. Picturehouses suggests that her family are stiflingly condescending . If that’s so (I was unsure I picked that up) then Ali’s presence not only gives her something she’s not getting elsewhere, but that perhaps her family and friendship circle was not strong. However, she seems to have little of it – so rather than strengthening it through her incident, she loses them more.
My gut feeling that I’d enjoy this film was right – though I did not know my gut would literally feel wrenched (but not in an upsetting, unwatchable way). I am intrigued to find out how the effects were done, as I presume that Marion still has feet… but now I’m reflecting more, I am a little unsatisfied. I didn’t fid the anatomy lesson voiceover epilogue from Ali very helpful, and I didn’t really rally for him or get into his Fight Club world. I suspect awards are looming, but felt this kind of role touts them by its very nature. I was impressed by Marion, but wondered if any illness or disability or other suffering makes us feel we are watching a better performance. Because I didn’t really see the full arc in Stephanie that I would have liked. But perhaps those who believe in randomness and lack of author in life wouldn’t write it in fiction, and I think that is where I differed enough to recommend but not rave about the film.
As a coda, I want to talk about intrusive medicine. I was unsure if the whale ate Stephanie’s legs or the hospital did. The BBC and the BBFC says they are amputated. Unconscious, she could have no way of allowing it. I would hate my sister if I realised she had given consent for it, as Stephanie’s has. How badly were the legs mangled? So often we don’t give parts of our bodies the chance to grow again, and we cut out instead of changing energy. We would be surprised by how much can heal itself – not just our bones (as the film’s epilogue mentions). I am sure the floating figure after the whale crash had full legs. The shock for me is not the whale skidding over the stage, but the actions of hospital and family, and the ugliness of artificial limbs.