Like The Beat My Heart Skipped and Read My Lips, Rust and Bone features a hardened man with criminal tendencies who has a chance at love and the option to go on the straight and narrow. But far from treading over familiar ground, Audiard's films are so masterfully crafted, with complex characters played by such accomplished actors, that each film actually digs deeper than the one before it. And while his last effort, the extraordinary A Prophet was more stylised and had little in the way of a love interest, it was still a story of a criminal and his navigation through a complicated relationship - in that case with another prisoner.
Rust and Bone centres on two damaged individuals, Stephanie (the always amazing Marion Cotillard), a trainer of whales in a marine theme park who has her legs amputated after a freak accident, and Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) a brutish thug from a dysfunctional family, a broken relationship and not much to show for himself.
For the first part of the film, their stories run in separate strands, and their first meeting is not a particularly promising one. In echoes of The Beat My Heart Skipped, Alain views Stephanie as a whore. This is before Stephanie's horrific accident, a point which obviously alters the dynamic between them.
There's nothing predictable about what happens next. Both individuals suffer from a lack of direction, and there is so much resentment, caution and pain inside both of them, it's no wonder the bond between them is a tenuous one.
This is, however, no indulgent excursion into miserabilism. Both characters, despite their flaws and seemingly hopeless circumstances, are fascinating, and the chemistry between the two leads is the stuff that cinema magic is made of. Cotillard proves time and again that she is capable of almost anything, and Schoenaerts is every bit the physical, charismatic presence he was in Bullhead. Surely he is destined for international stardom.
Rust and Bone is as hard and unforgiving as the title suggests, but the pay-off is all the more rewarding and resonant because of it. Prepare to be emotionally drained.