Pleasing mystification not so good when it comes clear?
This is one of Denis’ puzzlers, like The Intruder, except it’s not that pleasurably mysterious, and lacks its vigorous, tonic physicality, unless you call moments of sex and violence that. Many of the usual players are there, with Vincent Lindon of Friday Night in the foreground throughout, Michel Subor as a morally dubious rich man again, Alex Descas of 35 Shots of Rum, and others seen before, including Grégoire Colin, seen almost always. Actually while it provides few points of obvious reference, up to a point Bastards is easy to explain compared to The Intruder. A ship’s captain, Marco Silvestri (Lindon) comes back to find his family is losing their shoe factory and has been involved in some ugly corruption (drugs, sex) that he didn’t know about. He occupies a nearly empty flat in a nice (“Haussmanian”) building — to observe dubious magnate Edouard Laporte (Subor), and start screwing Laporte’s mistress Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), with whom she shares a little boy, “little Joseph” (Yann Antoine Bizette).
Other characters include Marco’s sister Sandra (Julie Bataille); whose husband Jacques (Laurent Grevill) commits suicide in the opening scene, being massively in debt to Laporte; and a young woman, evidently their daughter Justine (Lola Créton), traumatized by devious practices, who wanders the streets at night stark naked except for high heels. She has been in the care of a Dr. Béthanie (Descas), who’s also a psychiatrist. Involved in a scene of orgies out in the country, which Marco visits, are several people glimpsed fleetingly, including Xavier (Colin). Marco’s behavior is mysterious. He sells a valuable watch, and then to a friend and former naval associate who collects cars, he sells his pretty robin’s egg blue Alfa Romeo. Evidently he has taken time off to help his sister deal with the debuts, and to observe Laporte. These elements accumulate by an achronological precess of accretion rather than conventional narrative flow.
Various cool, mysterious, vaguely exciting, and eventually disquieting things go on that may be more interesting when we don’t yet understand what they are. The view of Mike D’Angelo, who saw the film when it debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, is that it can be compared to Assayas’ Demonlover, also related to corporate evil and devious sex, also cool, but mundane when it reveals its secrets toward the end. D’Angelo points out this is loosely based on Faulkner’s Sanctuary. He recounts some hocus-pocus having to do with a bar of soap and a shirt, and the repair of the boy’s bike used as an intro between Marco and Raphaëlle. D’Angelo concludes, “whileBastards is never less than enthralling while it unravels, its resolution—again, like that of Demonlover—feels shallowly sordid, as if the entire movie was really just a prolonged moralistic scold cleverly disguised as something richer and more mysterious.” And he thinks this will be a footnote to Denis’ main filmography, which follows, if his analysis is right. Her collaborator on the writing, as on a number of occasions, was Jean-Pol Fargeau.
This is probably a film that’s more fun to analyze than watch, though it also, like The Intruder, will probably be more enjoyable after being more thoroughly worked through. Scott Foundas in Variety, who seems enthusiastic, also notes a link to Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well. He describes this as a “hypnotic nocturnal thriller” that exercises a “dreamlike pull.” Les salauds (the original title) opened in France in August, where it has mixed press (Allociné 2.9), due to a split between the hipper, more sophisticated journals cited (Les Inrocks, Cahiers) that appreciated and the more mainstream (Le Monde, Télérama) that didn’t at all. Even Cahiers found the final explanatory sequence irrelevant and thought it would be more artistically pure without it: why be mysterious and elusive and then explain things? This is probably what D’Angelo’s bothered by. Music by usual collaborators Stuart A. Staples and British indie outfit Tindersticks is excellent. Shot by Agnès Godard as usual but in digitial this time.
Bastards/Les salauds debuted at Cannes May 2013, opened in France 7 Aug., screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center
Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Jean-Pol Fargeau (screenplay), Claire Denis (screenplay)
Stars: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille
Runtime: 83 mins
COuntry: France, Germany