I watched this film a few days ago but put off reviewing it until I could organise my thoughts a little better. I’ve found that the film seems much better in retrospect. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy watching it, more that it matured in my mind like a fine wine and became progressively more remarkable for its tenacity in making me think for nearly a week.
The film is a modern fairytale. A tale of hardship and gritty misery that eventually leads to enlightenment. Marion Cotillard is fantastic in her role as Stephanie, a whale trainer who loses her legs in a freak accident. Her story of coming to terms with her new life and new self is so engaging that, after about a minute of surprise, you no longer wonder or care how difficult it was to digitally remove her legs, you are simply drawn into her story. However it is her counterpart, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), estranged father and brother that truly shines. If this is a tale of redemption it is truly he who is redeemed, coming back from the brink of horror into the light. Stephanie is merely the guide to living a new life.
Yet the film is not cheesy, it is grimy, unpleasant and fraught with anger and frustration. Much of the film is edited to have a dark blue tinge; which is a nice effect but often alters the natural colours so much as to be outright ugly. This, however, is my only gripe with the film which has such a huge heart and such cinematographic beauty that it can be forgiven almost anything.
Symbolically the film often calls on the image of water. The water cleanses, brings about change, new life and death. It is a permanent feature; an unstoppable force that reflects every emotion of the characters on screen. However the pinnacle of this film is the scene which acts as the image for this review. It was at this point that I was astonished. Any film which could communicate so much through only music and a few actions, any actress who could bring these emotions to light so naturally, deserved to be watched with all of my attention.