A guy like Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) would normally never stand a chance with a woman like Stephanie (Marion Cotillard). She's intensely beautiful and intensely interesting, a trainer who works with killer whales. He's not particularly charming and even less successful. But a terrible accident on the job will cost Stephanie her legs. And then it will seem perfectly natural for the woman used to male attention of the highest sort to seek out the loser who was interested in her -- but not too interested in her.

That's what the French film "Rust and Bone" is about. Though, of course, it's also about much more. Nominated for Golden Globes in the Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress, Drama categories, "Rust and Bone" would likely get an Oscar nod in that first category, if France hadn't decided to submit "The Intouchables" instead. The country might have made the wrong choice. Though "Rust and Bone" hovers on the edge of melodrama, it eventually navigates the dangers to become a touching, authentic film.

Alain has just gotten custody of his 5-year-old son, and he goes south to Antibes to move in with his sister and her husband as he looks for work and help with the boy. We soon learn why Alain has become the unexpected sole parent -- Sam's (Armand Verdure) mother used the child to smuggle drugs.

Of course, Alain has trouble finding respectable work. "Trust me," he says to a prospective employer, and we don't blame the businessman for his skepticism. Alain eventually finds work as a nightclub bouncer, while making money on the side in kickboxing. That's how he meets Stephanie: She gets hurt one night when the attention she gets goes wrong.

On screen
'Rust and Bone'
3.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure
Director: Jacques Audiard
Rated: R for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language
Running time: 120 minutes

"You dress like a whore," Alain informs her. He also gives her his phone number. She would never have dialed it had she not lost her legs shortly afterward -- along with her interest in living. That's the one thing Alain has going for him. He's a troubled soul, but the man has a real zest for life.

Their relationship seems at first more destructive than therapeutic. Alain lets Stephanie know he's always just a text away -- but only for casual sex, which he continues to have with other women, as well. But though Alain is unaware, the father who's just getting by actually wants more from life. He'll have to persuade Stephanie to embrace it before he can get it, though.

Director Jacques Audiard, who helped adapt the film from Canadian writer Craig Davidson's short stories, is 60, but only in the last few years gaining the notice he deserves. His 2005 film "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" was a special piece of work. Despite its faults, so is "Rust and Bone." The director's careful touch is matched by the brave work put in by its two stars.