The French really know how to do depressing.

They also have a way of finding that silver lining in the most cloudy of lives and circumstances. Essentially, the French romanticize pain.

"Rust and Bone" ("De rouille et d'os"), directed by French film-maker Jacques Audiard, is inspiring, despite the tragedy that befalls its protagonist, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard).

Stephanie is an attractive, slender, athletic woman who is employed at a marine world tourist attraction where she works with performing orca whales. An accident with one of the huge whales sheers her legs off at the knees.

Now, this is not a spoiler. This is just where the story begins. Stephanie sinks into a deep depression.

She becomes friends with another young man, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who is separated from the mother of his young son, for whom he has parental custody. Ali moves in with his sister and her husband in Antibes. They live on the wrong side of the French Rivera. He works as a security guard and moonlights as a mixed-martial arts fighter.

The contrast and similarities between Ali's brutal fights and Stephanie's challenging post-operation battle is one of the chief aspects to recommend the film. The storyline also presents contemporary social issues crucial to some plot twists. We won't spoil those.

"Rust and Bone" director Jacques Audiard, who also directed "A Prophet" (2009), "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" (2005) and "Read My Lips" (2001), directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Thomas Bidegain. The screenplay is based on the short stories, "Rust and Bone" and "Rocket Ride," from the book, "Rust and Bone," by Canadian author Craig Davidson.

The cinematography by director of photography St├ęphane Fontaine, who has worked with Jacques Audiard before, is often hand-held, up-close and intimate, with lots of overexposure, not only representing the South of France resort, but Stephanie and Ari's mental states.

The soundtrack composed by Alexandre Desplat ("Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Moonrise Kingdom," "The King's Speech," "The Tree of Life") gives an ethereal sense, while also emphasizing certain plot points.

French directors, Jacques Audiard included, know how to get seamless, naturalistic, performances from their film actors.

Marion Cotillard projects a contemplative glow with her big eyes, high cheek bones and a high forehead. Because of the accident, her passive face rarely cracks a smile. Her sweet visage has been soured. She brings us along on her journey.

Cotillard, a 2007 Oscar actress recipient for "La Vie En Rose," the Edith Piaf biopic, received a Screen Actors Guild actress nomination for "Rust and Bone," with the award going to Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook." "Rust and Bone" was acclaimed at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

Matthias Schoenaerts ("Bullhead," 2011, an Oscar foreign-language nominee) presents an odd, powerful and effective characterization of a brute whose brute strength seems to get in the way of his brain power.

Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts remarkably achieve the physical challenges each role presents. They and "Rust and Bone" will get under your skin.

"Rust and Bone," MPAA Rated R for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language; Genre: Drama, Romance; Run time; 2 hrs.;' Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Box Office, Feb. 1: While most warm bodies were gearing up for Super Bowl XLVII weekend, enough movie-goers turned out to see "Warm Bodies," opening at No. 1, $20 million, shoving "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" to No. 2, $9.2 million, $34.4 million, two weeks. "Silver Linings Playbook" continued at No. 3, $8.1 million, $80.3 million, 12 weeks.

4. "Mama," $6.7 million, $58.2 million, three weeks; 5. "Zero Dark Thirty," $5.3 million, $77.7 million, seven weeks; 6. "Bullet to the Head," $4.5 million, opening; 7. "Parker," $3.2 million, $12.4 million, two weeks; 8. "Django Unchained," $3 million, $150.9 million, six weeks; 9. "Les Miserables," $2.4 million, $141.5 million, six weeks; 10. "Lincoln," $2.4 million, $170.7 million, 13 weeks; 11. "Argo," $2.1 million, $120.4 million, 17 weeks (in re-release and with a weekend boost from the Directors Guild of America award for "Argo" director Ben Affleck, who also has won Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild of American and Golden Globe awards for "Argo").

Unreel, Feb. 8:

"Identity Thief," R: Jason Bateman has his financial and personal identification identity stolen. He hits the road with Melissa McCarthy in the crime caper. John Cho and Amanda Peet co-star.

"Side Effects," R: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in the crime thriller about a prescription drug's side effects.

Read previous movie reviews by Paul Willistein at the Times-News web site, tnonline.com. Email Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com [1] and on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes