Neo-Noir Au Francais: Bastards 


Directed by Claire Denis

Claire Denis’s unsettling new feature sheds light on a corrosive dynamic that suggests an evil twin to the circle of life in 35 Shots of Rum or the sensual nocturne of Friday Night. Rugged Vincent Lindon plays ship captain Marco, who’s summoned back to land and becomes a kind of undercover investigator poking into the dark corners of his own family. The story rolls in and spreads like a black fog: he takes up with the mistress (Chiara Mastroianni) of the businessman (lizard-lipped Michel Subor) who brought to ruin his sister and her husband—and, it seems, their ravaged daughter, Justine (Lola Creton), whose name appropriately conjures Sade.

If Bastards is a neo-noir, it’s one that finds its protagonist not merely swept up in an undercurrent of desire. Willful yet ultimately powerless, Marco is stirring up the waters, his pursuit fueled by retribution. But when he makes his discoveries, his anger must also contain a touch of shamefacedness if not shock.

Denis’s framework here is not necessarily one of her most innovative; Chinatown comes to mind, or more recently, film maudit Lost Highway, especially in the queasy-making glimpses of video, the presence of Subor as evil big-man, and the Tindersticks soundtrack climax, an electro-stomp serenade to obscenity.

In fact, the film’s ultimate descent feels so accelerated (by Denis standards) as to suggest a certain personal animus, a moral urgency (analogous to the way The Intruder, for some viewers, went unfathomably deep into its sense of crisis). Denis, working with Agnès Godard, has always had one of the most distinctive visual rhythms in cinema, musical and bodily, but a hard steadiness creeps into Bastards. It’s a movie ultimately epitomized by a Cocteauvian twist on the noir motif of driving in a speeding car, lost in the night—j’ai pas sommeil indeed.

Opens October 23


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