Yet again, Marion Cotillard is riveting as Stephanie, who is strong enough to train performing Orca whales, yet when we first meet her, has been smashed in the nose by a man at a nightclub. She is rescued and driven home by Ali, the powerful club bouncer (Mattias Schoenaerts). He bluntly tells her that if she dresses like a whore, she can expect this kind of behavior. Not trusting her unhappy boyfriend, Ali gives her his card.
Their relationship unfolds in strange ways, as he brings her into his violent world as a fighter, which excites her, and she starts to come to life and learns to use artifical limbs. He's living with his sister and his son, and doing odd jobs. Clearly, he tends to act out physically rather than communicate with words.
The movie is unsentimental--despite a sweet Alexander Desplat score--and while Audiard says he tried to keep the violence to a minimum, he can't help but assault us with blood and flying teeth. These characters are not easy to love. But they are real. And Sony Pictures Classics plans to introduce the film on the fall festival circuit. While Cotillard, who has won the Oscar ("La Vie en Rose"), is in the Academy club, and Schoenaerts broke out in Belgian Oscar nominee "Bullhead," the awards season fate of this movie will depend on how it fares with art house audiences in America.