Often, I tell my students that the best films make you think and feel, and that may be the strongest thing that links these two movies.

I’m still waiting to see Amour with my Film Theory and Criticism students on Tuesday before I commit to a top ten list for 2013 (I know that I’m behind!), but it is possible that Rust and Bone may make the cut.

Ah, not an intended spoiler, but an unfortunate choice of words.

Marion Cotillard must be one of the finest actors working.  I have not seen her co-star Matthias Schoenaerts before, but he, too, is wonderful in this film.  She is beautifully understated in a performance that breaks the heart, and he is capable of the rapidly shifting emotions (from tender to violent) that I have written about before in a piece comparing Ryan Gosling to Humphrey Bogart.  Few actors have such an immediately accessible and completely believable emotional range.

My only criticism of Rust and Bone is that the film feels a little long (seems to be a common condition currently).

The story is raw.  Although I saw a couple of major plot points coming, that is not a criticism in this case but a strength coming out of the believability of the narrative.  Basically, this is a story of coming to terms.  Two very different characters overcome huge obstacles – hers mainly external and his mainly internal – to connect with one another.

Do I think people can change?  Yes, but what I believe is that it must come from within, and what I don’t know for sure is how rare that is.  Some people will see Rust and Bone as tragic and relentless, but I prefer to see it as tragic and sad but ultimately hopeful. There is more to life than endurance and survival, though those skills are called upon for all of us in varying degrees at different times. Sometimes it takes the direst of circumstances to create an opportunity for an emotional breakthrough.

I really believe that our purpose in life is to take care of one another, and at a fundamental level, this is a theme explored in various ways in Rust and Bone (and, come to think of it, links Rust and Bone with Quartet!)

Most of all, I see Rust and Bone as both powerful and believable and appreciate not only the performances and the story (that is mostly understated except for moments of explosive drama that punctuate certain scenes and sequences) but also the gritty look of the film.

Everything fits…but it could have fit a bit more compactly and been about ten minutes shorter.

On the surface, Dustin Hoffman’s film Quartet (screenplay by Ronald Harwood from his play) is a cross between a contemporary Downton Abbey and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with Maggie Smith gluing the three together.

The action takes place in stately country home for retired opera sings and musicians.  Does such a thing exist?  I haven’t any idea, but the location is lovely, and the cast is enjoyable (Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon, and more).

There are funny moments, a plot device that involves reuniting a quartet to sing in a benefit concert to save the home from closing, and the usual stock characters and traditional narrative formulas.  But, there is also something more.

There are moments when the fleeting nature of time and the pathos of aging transcend genre and give the viewer a more expansive view of important life truths.  We age, but we don’t forget and don’t necessarily eclipse our essential natures.  There is a poignancy and deeper beauty found at the interstices of the film that make it – for me – a bit more than the sum of its parts.  We change, we get old, and we adjust if we value our lives.  We don’t have to give up our interests or our humanity but just have to recalibrate a bit to find new ways to stay engaged with life when circumstances change.

One of the things that touched me so deeply about Silver Linings Playbook is the recognition that there aren’t many chances that come along in life for momentous, important things.  One of the joys of Quartet is seeing that sometimes mistakes can be corrected, love endures, and occasionally there is a second chance.  Who doesn’t want to believe that?

Quartet is also one of the relatively few films that my mother and I can enjoy equally well together.  She had seen a CBS news magazine piece on Dustin Hoffman a few weeks back and been inquiring regularly about when the film would come to local screens.

Seeing Quartet together made for a lovely afternoon of movie viewing with my mother, which makes it a special gift, and the brisk running time at just over an hour and a half is a bonus.


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