NEW YORK — Films featuring disabled protagonists — painter Christy Brown in “My Left Foot,” the wheelchair-bound Vietnam vet Ron Kovic in “Born on the Fourth of July,” the polio-stricken poet Mark O’Brien in this year’s “The Sessions” — have been a staple of Hollywood movies for decades and catnip to critics and industry voters come awards season. This year, the French actress Marion Cotillard finds herself in the thick of the leading actress Oscar race for “Rust and Bone,” which opens Friday. In the film, directed by French auteur Jacques Audiard, Cotillard plays an orca trainer whose legs are amputated from the knees down after a devastating accident during a show at Marineland.
In Hollywood dramas, disabled characters tend to be isolated from the world, treated as objects of pity, or sentimentalized as triumphs of the human spirit. But Cotillard saw her character Stephanie’s disability as something that awakens her.