Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises) and Matthias Schoenaerts star as a killer whale trainer and a breadline striding bare-knuckle boxer who meet in Antibes, France and strike up first an unlikely friendship, then a romance that helps them both find the strength to see themselves reborn.

Stephanie is struggling to come to terms with a horrific marine park accident that saw her legs amputated, and Alain to find the courage to take on responsibility in his life, whether it be for his own actions, or taking care of his neglected, and borderline feral, son.

It’s a story of courage and redemption. The fight sequences are utterly bruising and the love scenes sexually charged; the emotions are considered with an honesty, by both character and screenwriter, that truly affects.

Audiard proves himself a skilled filmmaker capable of restraint when needed (a solitary bloodied tooth cracking on to the cement during one particular brawl hits harder than any highly choreographed and drawn-out sequence), but also ready to move head first into moments of pain and despair, as Stephanie contemplates wheelchair-bound life.

It is the redemption in flawed characters that compels the most, though, andthe understanding that what doesn’t kill us doesn’t always make us stronger, but changes us nonetheless. A thoughtful, powerful film, and a deserving winner.

%TNT Magazine% stars 4

Good for: A tale of love, loss and violence ready to move from art house to multiplex.

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts | 15 | 122mins