Claire Denis is back with her new film Bastards, a bleak tale of abuse and revenge. The film was exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival, and it has been garnering the attention of critics and fans alike.
In Denis’s characteristically fragmented fashion, the film tells the story of different individuals, all somehow linked to a young girl named Justine (Lola Créton). Marco (Vincent Lindon), a sailor and Justine’s uncle, has been called back from the sea after news of the suicide of his best friend, Justine’s father. After coming back, a light is shone on the sexual abuse Justine has been put through, and Marco sets out to discover the truth regarding the life she led while he was away. In order to do so, he moves into an apartment in front of prominent tycoon Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor), and starts a flaming love affair with Laporte’s mistress, Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni). The film is a frantic search for answers that only seldom caves in to the viewer’s desire for knowledge.
This film marks the return of many of Denis’s regulars: Lindon as Marco, Alex Descas as Justine’s physician, and Grégoire Colin as Justine’s mysterious friend/facilitator of her abuse, to name a few. It is always refreshing to see actors reinvented in different roles by the same director, since it provides a look not only into their own abilities, but also into the versatility of the filmmaker’s directing. Despite the massive talent upon which Denis counts in the film, most of the characters don’t do their actors justice. Raphaëlle is a pale and generic character that seldom provides anything interesting or decisive; she is merely a plot device that drives the stories of her male costars, and not even in an interesting way. Mastroianni seems to merely serve as a visual aid (she is filmed beautifully, there is no denying). Lindon’s role is also unimpressive. Although there are some emotionally intense scenes, his character Marco is also plain and boring; his demons seem forced, and his motives painfully obvious. The most noteworthy performance is probably Michel Subor’s, since his personality is never clear, and his character provides the spectator with mixed signals that build suspense well throughout the whole film.
Visually, the film is unfortunately not as interesting as some of Denis’s other work. There were only a handful of sequences that were visually enticing, or were worthy of remembering. It has to be said, however, that Denis continues to confirm her masterful touch with sexual scenes. Mastroiannis’s encounter with Marco is one of the film’s peaks, and the scene is interesting, racy, and dynamic. It would have been great to see the dynamism of this scene carry on to following sequences. This lack of inspiration, both in shots and in characters, can be attributed to a somewhat poor script. Although fragmentation, lack of definite answers, and disturbing occurrences are all part of Denis’s cinema, this story does not suit her style as well as others have before. The plot is too dramatic and scattered, and it seems like all the elements are trying to be interesting, intense, and vague at the same time. It makes for an odd end product, and a feeling of dissatisfaction is very likely to linger at the end.
Music is one aspect of this film that does deserve notice. The title track gives the work a very 90s vibe, and it evokes feelings pertaining to a lot of other scores in Denis’s films. This piece suits the film well, providing it with proper atmosphere. The music used in the disturbing ending sequence is also good for ambience, and it becomes an easily recognizable part of the film.
Directed by one of the most recognized and admired female filmmakers not only in French cinema, but worldwide, Claire Denis’s new film is garnering much attention and interest. With a bleak atmosphere, the film sees the return of many of Denis’s actors, techniques, and themes. However, this time they are not particularly special or unique, and they amount to an adequately entertaining film that doesn’t really imprint in cinematic history. Bastards is as gloomy as the title that carries it, but it is sadly not Denis’s best work.
Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival