Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

A seemingly minor character in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (a Marine in Afghanistan being interviewed by embedded reporter Kim Baker) makes an offhand comment on camera about how he doesn’t even bother to load his gun every day, and gets transferred to a new unit for his sins. During an argument late in movie, Kim Baker is informed that the soldier had both of his legs blown off as a result. Remorseful (and probably looking for an endorphin spike), Kim tracks him down and visits him back in the States, finding him riding his John Deere at home with his family, expecting him to blame her for the loss of his legs and prepared to take any sort of verbal lashing he wants to give her. But Specialist Coughlin does not conform to the disability movie stereotype of the angry amputee who seeks revenge on the person they blame for the loss of their limb:

Specialist Coughlin: “Ma’am, I lost my legs because of an IED, not because of you.”

Kim: “I appreciate that. But if I hadn’t quoted you, you wouldn’t have been
transferred. No, really, you can say whatever you want to me. That’s why I’m here.”

Specialist Coughlin: “OK, then let’s say you’re right. It’s still not ’cause of you,
ma’am. Some 12-year old hadji had to plant that bomb. And hell, if Bin Laden’s
parents hadn’t gotten divorced, maybe none of us would have been in this damn to
begin with. And the Taliban, they wouldn’t have even been there for UBL, if Breznev
hadn’t gone and fouled up Afghanistan in the first place. And the British Empire.
Oh, and Kim Baker.”

Kim: “OK, I deserved that.”

Specialist Coughlin: “Goddam! When you got no legs, everyone takes everything so
serious! There’s only so much any of us have any control of, good or bad. If you
didn’t learn that in Afghanistan, you were not paying attention. I mean, ma’am, Kim,
you gotta move on. You’re giving yourself way too much credit. You embrace the suck,
you move the fuck forward. What other fucking choice do we have?”

Pick of the week: A violent, sexy and startling love story

from Salon: Pick of the week: A violent, sexy and startling love story
Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard plays a paraplegic in love with a kickboxer in “Rust and Bone”
By Andrew O’Hehir
If I tell you that “Rust and Bone” is a love story about a killer-whale trainer and a single-dad kickboxer, it sounds like one kind of movie. (Admittedly, not a kind you’ve seen very often.) But what if I add that it stars Oscar winner and “Inception” co-star Marion Cotillard as a woman who loses her legs in a bizarre accident? Or if I tell you that it’s a vibrant, violent and ferociously sexy film driven by a soundtrack heavy on Anglo-American dance-pop? (This is a movie to dance to, or make love to, not one to sit around with glasses of overpriced wine and chat about.) Then if I tell you it’s a French film, a showcase for extraordinary acting and moments of cinematic abstraction, an acrid social commentary, and in some sense an heir to the classic romances spun by Max Ophüls and Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard, it sounds like something else again.

None of that sounds like I’m describing the same movie, except to some tiny coterie of international cinema buffs out there who might say, “Oh, the new Jacques Audiard film. Well, of course.” Audiard is now 60 years old and has made just six features since moving from screenwriting to directing in the early ’90s. He’s well-known in France and has twice won the César, or French Oscar, for best picture — for “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” in 2005 (an adaptation of James Toback’s “Fingers”) and the brilliant 2010 prison saga “A Prophet” — but remains completely obscure in America, which is at least mildly ironic. If all of French cinema for the last 30 years has been preoccupied with confronting the power and popular appeal of Hollywood, at least arguably, Audiard may be the most conspicuously Americanized of French directors. He makes genre films designed to thrill you and titillate you as well as engage your mind, and seeks an almost metaphysical fusion between 1970s Hollywood and the French New Wave. (Mind you, I could use that same sentence to describe Luc Besson, except that I’d have to take out the “engage your mind” part, and somehow sneak in the phrase “unbelievable garbage.”)

All of which is to say that my attempt to describe “Rust and Bone” adequately is likely to fail, and so is anybody else’s. You should just go see it, because it has a visual command and powerful narrative undertow all its own. It’s going to play art-house theaters, because it has subtitles and that means that only an infinitesimal percentage of the population is willing to give it a try. But you don’t need to read to understand the shot where you see a guy’s bloody molar go skittering across the ground like a runaway insect, or the dreamlike scene where a woman commands a killer whale with gestures, like a conductor before an orchestra. Not to mention the one where the killer-whale lady and the former owner of the molar have hot sex, and we can see clearly that both her legs end above the knee, and that she has had the stumps tattooed “DROITE” and “GAUCHE,” left and right. (There was a moment during the film when I thought I understood why she did that. But – sorry, it’s gone.)

In fact, “Rust and Bone” is specifically a movie about people who hardly talk at all, or at least not about their emotional lives. Here’s the big courtship scene between Cotillard’s character, the double-amputee whale trainer named Stéphanie, and the Belgian kickboxer cum security guard called Ali, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. They become friends, and she mentions one day after they’re cleaning up the lunch dishes that she hasn’t had sex since her injury and isn’t even sure the equipment still works. He nods and asks: “So do you want to fuck?” He doesn’t have to be at work for a while and doesn’t have another date or anything; he genuinely wouldn’t mind. And they claim chivalry is dead! (In an earlier scene, Stéphanie asks Ali why he’s carrying a kid’s toy en route to an illegal street fight. “For my son,” he responds. She’s known him for weeks and had no idea he had one.)

Cotillard gets the showier role in “Rust and Bone,” playing Stéphanie as a species of melodramatic heroine, a vain, somewhat spoiled woman who is thrust into a new relationship with her body and the world after her devastating accident. (Digital effects are used to remove Stéphanie’s legs, but it’s so convincing you’ll never ask yourself how it was done.) As she tells Ali during their first meeting, before the accident, she is used to attracting sexual attention from men and rather likes it. He is driving her home after rescuing her, in his role as nightclub bouncer, from an overly attentive suitor. She gives him a slight come-on signal, but first of all she’s got a boyfriend at home and second of all Ali blows it, observing that if she’s going to dress like a whore, she shouldn’t be shocked if guys get the wrong idea.

But it’s Schoenaerts’ performance as the muscular, laconic Ali (he isn’t Arab or Muslim; it’s a nickname) who holds the key to “Rust and Bone.” Here I go, attaching a brainiac interpretation to a movie that is primarily a visual and kinetic experience — the masterful cinematography is by Stéphane Fontaine, Audiard’s usual collaborator — but I think “Rust and Bone” is about the relationship between the mind and body in contemporary society, and maybe also about the way late capitalism has stripped away so much of the veneer of civilization. Ali is neither an indecent nor a dishonest man. He works hard and doesn’t steal and never uses his physical strength to abuse the weak. He has traveled to his sister’s house in Antibes, in the south of France, after extracting his son from some dire criminal situation in Belgium. But he’s also instinctive and almost animalistic; as his offensive remark to Stéphanie suggests, he has poor judgment, doesn’t think before he speaks, and seems unconscious of the bourgeois social codes that once governed male-female intercourse. (It apparently doesn’t occur to him, for instance, that going to a nightclub with Stéphanie and then ditching her for an able-bodied girl is a move that lacks panache.)

It’s only partly accurate, and way too simplistic, to suggest that the twin demands of fatherhood and helping Stéphanie build a new life after her injury help develop a moral sense within Ali. It’s just as true to say that the brutality and directness of Ali’s existence — the fact that he makes money by beating other men and being beaten by them — shock Stéphanie out of her self-pity and connect her to the basic physical facts of being alive. But let’s go bigger than that: “Rust and Bone” is one of the year’s best films precisely because it can’t be boiled down to a message or synopsis. It’s an exercise in style that risks trashiness in search of transcendence, and it’s a sizzling celebration of the power of music, the power of images, and the electric, destructive power of the human body.

“Rust and Bone” opens this week in New York and Los Angeles, with national release to follow.

Marion Cotillard on Rust and Bone, Playing a Double Amputee, and Hating the Zoo

You saw her in this summer’s very American blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises. But come fall, Marion Cotillard will be getting buzz for playing a double-­amputee killer-whale trainer (yes, a double-amputee killer-whale trainer) in Jacques Audiard’s très français drama Rust and Bone. Jada Yuan spoke to the actress for New York magazine’s “Fall Preview” issue. Vulture got its hands on the complete transcript; highlights, below.

I read that you do a lot of research for your movies. What did you do to get ready for your role in Rust and Bone?
Well, I did kind of technical research, because I just had to find the physicality of the body language of someone who’s lost her legs. I wanted to find the authenticity of what it feels like, even though I will never, never know how it feels. But then about this character … most of the time, I read a script and then I understand the character right away — not everything about the character, otherwise it would be boring, maybe. But sometimes you have right away kind of a … you understand a lot about a person, and you understand the soul of this person, and then you will have to meet this person to learn more. With the character I have in Rust and Bone, I read the script and then I thought, My God, I don’t really understand her. And so that’s what I told Jacques Audiard, and I was kind of scared he would freak out. But that was what I felt, so that was what I had to share with him after I read the script. I was anxious about his reaction, and he told me, “Well, you know, I don’t understand her either. But that’s a good thing. We will have to take the road together, you and me, and find her, find who she is.” So that was kind of an amazing experience I was really looking forward to.

Let’s talk about the physicality of it, because I think that’s really interesting. When you say you did technical research to sort of know how it would feel to be without legs, what did you do?
Well, I don’t know if it’s very interesting, but I watched videos of people with no legs. I mean, each time I have to enter into a character and give life to a character, I do my best to believe that I’m old, or that I’m, I don’t know, desperate.

Your character has an affair in the movie. How did you do the sex scenes?
Well, with my legs, obviously [laughs].

Do they wrap them in tape and then green screen them out? I loved the sex scenes. It’s something you don’t see with disabled people in movies very much.
Well, we didn’t really think about the technique, because Jacques Audiard is … I remember when he was preparing the movie, he was writing e-mails to me, and he was [saying], “I spent an hour with the special effects, and I don’t want to spend anything. I just want you guys to be there with me, and we’re going to just give life to those characters.” So the technical part — we were lucky to work with amazing, amazing technicians. But then it felt like something real. You have to have a certain position with your legs not to make shadows and everything, but it’s not what is very important about the work we did. The most important was the director’s poetry, the way he filled this in with poetry and his vision of those people.

You rarely see a double amputee played in such a sexy way. Do you know what I mean? She has this thriving sex life, and a man who falls in love with her. Was that important to you? Did you respond to that?
Yeah, well, because this is a movie about rust, bone, flesh, blood, and love. And they’re young, they’re lost, but they’re beautiful, and they’re coming back to life, and in a big way they’re really coming back to life. And life with surrender is beautiful.

Read more at Vulture.com.