“I liked being watched. I liked turning guys on. Getting them worked up. But then I’d get bored.”–Stephanie
When we first see Stephanie she is leaving a night club. She was just in a fight and her face is bloody. The damage looks painful but she doesn’t look like she feels anything. Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts), who works as a bouncer at The Annex, drives her home and goes up to her apartment for some ice. Their exchange is brief and perfunctory. He stays long enough to realize she’s living with her boyfriend and is a killer whale trainer and not a prostitute like he assumed earlier after checking out her legs. He leaves a few minutes afterwards.
The movie is based on two short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson. The original protagonist was a male but Jacques Audiard decided to turn the lead into a female after filming the all guy action drama A Prophet (probably my favourite Audiard film of all time, The Beat That My Heart Skipped being a close second).
The first time I saw Cotillard in a movie was in La Vie En Rose (2007) and was blown away not only by her singing, but ability to completely disappear into her characters. She’s brilliant as Stephanie, a cynical night owl, but also as Stephanie post-accident, who struggles to come to terms with her heartbreaking loss.
The oceanic cinematography is stunning, loved the beach scene when Stephanie strips down at the water and feels the warm of the sun on her face, and that great shot of her and the whale reuniting, pale hands on glass, the sea creature responding to her gestures like magic, an act of sorcery.
When Alain and Stephanie meet again she is different but he’s still the same, bouncing from job to job, fighting more for the thrill than the money, and unable to connect with his son.
For such a heavy storyline there are some surprisingly humorous moments between the two of them (did the OP joke make anyone else think of Jersey Shore?) but they don’t feel forced at all. Neither did their spats (“We continue, but not like animals”).
Cotillard’s progression from victim to survivor to legendary badass is great. (Stephanie’s prosthetic legs draw sympathetic looks at the beach, but are admired by the male fighters who wrestle like animals in a deserted area outside of the city. There’s a palpable sense of understanding in this arena: she’s a survivor.)
I agree with a lot of other reviewers who (spoilers ahead!) felt like the ending was a bit on the weak side. Taking Alain out of his environment diluted the reconciliation with his son and Stephanie. It would have been better to have him stay and deal with his responsibilities rather than run off like that without any warning.
Overall, I thought the movie was enjoyable. It didn’t top his last offering, but it’s hard to go up against the greatest mobster movie of all time. Just saying.
[Image via thecoast.ca]
[Image 2 via guardian.co.uk]
[Image 3 via port magazine]