Another side of the Riviera
ROMANTIC liaisons flourish in the most unlikely of settings and so it is with French director Jacques Audiard’s latest movie.
I loved his previous film A Prophet which was set in a maximum security prison and told the story of the ways various ethnic gangs interacted with each other – and the rise of a brash, young Muslim.
Here, Audiard tells a bizarre but very moving tale of two unlikely lovers.
Alain (Mathias Schoenaerts) arrives in the French Riviera resort town of Antibes, where his sister lives, with his five-year-old son Sam.
He gets a job as a bouncer at a nighclub where he runs into Stephanie (Marion Cotillard).
She holds down one of the most confronting jobs seen on screen in recent times. Stephanie trains orca whales at the local aquarium where one day – not long after the couple’s first meeting – a terrible accident happens.
She loses both legs from just above the knees. An orca lunges onto the handlers’ platform and snatches both of Stephanie’s limbs.
When Alain takes a telephone call from Stephanie we sense that maybe she wants him to end everything for her.
Unconcerned about her plight, Alain takes her swimming in the ocean. Gradually they become close friends with Stephanie even attending the brutal underground fights Ali enters to earn extra euros.
When his fight manager-cum-security-boss has to leave town suddenly, Stephanie steps in to organise the bets on Alain and collect the money.
All this when strictly speaking women are barred from attending the fights.
Audiard deliberately shows us the working class side of Antibes. It’s not the glamorous, jet-setting part of town around the casinos and plush marinas where Ali and Stephanie live and socialise.
And it actually takes some months for Stephanie to realise her lover has a son, indicating Alain has a less than ideal relationship with his five-year-old.
She becomes quite attached to Sam (Armand Verdure) and in the concluding scenes it’s Stephanie’s concern for Sam which overwhelms the tough, primal Alain.