To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to watch Jacques Audiard's outrageous melodrama without laughing. Loosely adapted from two works in Craig Davidson's 2005 short-story collection of the same name, Rust and Bone finds Audiard returning to the overdetermined characters and swift redemption of the bafflingly lauded A Prophet (2009). Where the earlier movie centered on the same-sex environment of men behind bars, Rust and Bone encompasses man, woman, child—even animal—in peril, bleeding and healing in sunny resort towns. As the film opens, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his anemic-looking 5-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), are traveling to Antibes to stay with Ali's grocery-clerk sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero). Father and child's penury is underscored by Ali's foraging of half-eaten sandwiches during their train trip. Ali meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a whale trainer who becomes a double amputee after a freak accident at the marine-mammal park where she works. The calamity occurs during her orca-choreographed routine to Katy Perry's "Firework"; "shoot across the sky-y-y" is heard underwater as blood oozes from Stéphanie's shapely gams. That the bodies of its leads (and even its secondary characters: Ali's sister is a stoop-shouldered, gray-faced lumpen) carry the narrative excess and outlandishness of Rust and Bone highlights just how much Audiard uses the corporeal as shorthand. Ali and Stéphanie evince little sense of interior lives or background; they are ciphers in service to shopworn ideas about suffering and deliverance.
Cotillard's trainer gets too close to the whale.
Opens Fri., Jan. 11 at Harvard Exit. Rated R. 120 minutes.