Bastards Screen 33 articles

Bastards

2013

Bastards Poster
  • There’s nothing wrong with dealing out a dense, noir-like plot in tiny scraps — unless, like “Bastards,” the film remains flaccid and tensionless. Lindon and Mastroianni have torrid sex, then go back to glowering at one another. The film ends in a spiral of death and decadence, but the assembled puzzle is moralistic and trite; it’s no kind of payoff.

  • “Bastards” is Denis’s chic, oblique neo-noir, inspired perhaps by the French continuation of the DSK affair. The sense of evil is palpable but pat. “Chinatown” it’s not—watching I was further distracted in wondering why the festival hadn’t welcomed “Welcome to New York”, the DSK thriller by sometime NYFF hero Abel Ferrara?

  • ...Those themes resonate passionately in the moment, but lose a good deal of their vitality by the finale, which reveals Bastards to be, at heart, more than a bit ridiculous. That's most true of a last scene that aims for gut-wrenching horror but instead comes across as cheaply and ludicrously sensationalistic, its wannabe-shocking closing note too B-movie for a saga that, up to that point, had affected loftier pretenses.

  • The synthetic but tightly wound plot leaves a hunger for resolution, but the director, Claire Denis, instead makes familiar lurches at social critique and gender politics... Working with the cinematographer Agnès Godard, Denis delivers a few shots that get at the heart of surfaces and a few closeups that conjure the heart of character; a concluding flourish evokes the heart of darkness, but scantly—the movie ends where it might have begun, and merely states mysteries that remain unexplored.

  • While Bastards, with its inky-black photography by Agnès Godard, music by Tindersticks, and murky character motivations and ill-defined relationships, is unmistakably Denis, this time I felt as though she were hovering too far above her film’s messiness. The upsetting ideas it raises (about helplessness in the face of dominant male power) and devastating images it summons might require a more forthright narrative depiction than a work of circular abstraction.

  • More than any of Denis’ previous films, it calls to mind Olivier Assayas’ highly divisive Demonlover, with its sterile conjunction of corporate malfeasance and sexual perversion. And as with Demonlover (which I quite like), formal magnificence obscures content that could kindly be characterized, when viewed head-on, as kinda sorta dumb.

  • If Bastards too often goes structurally awry with its actors’ fits of histrionics, it nonetheless leaves a scalding imprint for its unorthodox castigations. As the always pithy Denis herself explained after Bastards screened for the press, “I don’t want a film to give [women] only pity. I prefer to be fierce.”

  • Denis’ typically impeccable editing strings together individually stunning shots into fast-paced hypnosis, but her fluid command meshes poorly with self-conscious morbidity, culminating in an arguably silly/unnecessarily provocation-minded ending.

  • The film’s ultimate descent feels so accelerated (by Denis standards) as to suggest a certain personal animus, a moral urgency... 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.

  • If this grim tale of exploitation falls a little short of the duo’s prior collaborations, it’s only because peeling back its layers of misdirection proves more rewarding than seeing the big picture underneath. Yet, whileBastards is scarcely profound in its critique, aimed at powerful men who take what they want from the world, there’s still a nihilistic kick to its conclusion, which recalls the bracing bleakness ofChinatown.

  • Although it’s one of her most atmospherically rich works yet, Bastards initially comes across as a minor or marginal Denis film—not a resounding statement like Beau Travail(99) or The Intruder (04), and hard to know quite where to place in her oeuvre... But even if it is merely a sketch or fragment, an elegant offhand gesture, this film is pure Denis and richly unsettling.

  • Not a big Denis fan, and this isn't really much of a movie - the plot as generically bleak as Vincent Lindon's baggy-eyed melancholy - but she really has a way with these slowed-down sensual moments. Probably no coincidence that Lola Creton gives the 'best' performance without a single line of dialogue.

  • Pictorially, it's beautiful and repellant at once, with the sublime technique at the service of images that are militantly downbeat. The film's dreamlike quality – and this is a movie where much of its plot could be a dream – is enhanced further by Stuart Staples droning synth soundtrack. Put simply, Bastards offers confirmation were it needed that Denis remains one of the most exciting and innovative directors working today.

  • The themes of sexual exploitation, monetary manipulation and class indifference slowly emerge from Denis' masterfully woozy play of image and sound until a stunning, shocking final sequence—a 240i res homage to William Faulkner's lurid Sanctuary—snaps this punch-drunk nightmare into full-on, fearsome clarity.

  • It is the darkest movie – visually, psychologically and spiritually – that Denis has made. It’s also one of the rarest of cinematic objects – a completely contemporary, disturbingly relevant film noir.

  • It is another small film from Denis... a retreat from the sprawl of White Material, but brings back from that film the violence and primal darkness of its climatic night, finding it lain across a more modern but everyday world, with terrifying results. Ending with startling sharpness as all Claire Denis films do, Bastards is well named indeed as the closing credits follow only a further descent into startling disgust, opening to reveal a pit of pixels that will take a long time to forget.

  • Adopting a terse narrative style that seems to mirror the brutality of the film’s subject, “Bastards” strips every scene down to its essential details, never giving the viewer more information than Marco has at any given point in the story, only finally fitting all of its puzzle pieces together in a shocking final scene.

  • [Its] uncertainty, accentuated by an absence of moral and political judgement - incidentally very dissimilar to the film’s source inspiration The Bad Sleep Well (Akira Kurosowa, 1960) - in the end renders the film profoundly disturbing. If Bastards avoids lapsing into the sordid, it is because its phantasmatic fluxes are interrupted at the moment a character takes action, when the return to the real would be too violent.

  • Up until the harrowing denouement, the film’s lacunary narrative presents a formidable cognitive challenge to the viewer. An esteemed critic... perceptibly dubbed it a cubist work, and indeed, the question imposes itself as to how to process the scattered information we are presented with and synthesise it into a coherent whole? At the very least, the task calls for multiple viewings, combined with a prolonged rumination on its formal and narratological structures...

  • What [Denis has] done, as it happens, is her best film sinceL’intrus (which also featured favourite actors Michel Subor and Grégoire Colin, here in far more sinister roles), since it marries her interest in narrative jumps, classical tragedy (à la the Greeks, with the family as the locus of most of the crap in the world) and, yes, the workings of capitalism (as purveyor of much of said crap).

  • It’s fascinating to watch a filmmaker so sensitive to the expressive potential of faces, bodies, and surfaces working in a genre that denies its characters the freedom to show what they’re feeling (and in some cases, the freedom to feel, period). You can sense Denis straining to read something behind Créton’s classical-statue gaze or Subor’s drowsy movements, or the way the dim hall-light reflects off Mastroianni’s exposed back during a staircase love scene...

  • [Bastards] confronts, and I believe constructively, the often-impossible black and white divide between abuse and complicity... Denis has made a beautiful film, one that stimulates bodily and sensory identification with its own world. This rich sensory layering is expected in Denis’ work, but in Bastards it has perhaps a crueler purpose: to further complicate the centrifugal but intertwined forces of hatred and desire, exploitation and submission, trust and betrayal.

  • Denis and co-writer Fargeau keep Marco circling in on the truth—or maybe just running in circles until he meets up with his destiny. A shot from inside a car he drives back from the scene of an orgy where Justine was brutalized feels like a metaphor for the journeys both Marco and his niece are on. The camera puts us in the passenger seat as the car rounds a tight curve—which keeps going and going, lasting so long it feels like one of those Möbius-strip-like staircases in an M.C. Escher drawing.

  • It’s a disturbing testament to [Denis'] artistry that the most plangent impression left by Bastards is of its beauty, even as it is ultimately her most horrifying film since the cannibal holocaust that is 2001’s Trouble Every Day—indeed, in its considerably more far-reaching implications, perhaps even more so...

  • Bastards climaxes with two bits of sudden violence, each heroic in one sense, completely misguided in another, and both contribute greatly to a heady feeling of moral disorientation. This sense persists long after the film ends, leaving behind an assortment of searing, totemic images (a crushed car, a burnt ear of corn, those bloody legs) which stand out as haunting reminders of its grim nocturnal landscape.

  • For any long-time Denis admirer (I am one), Bastards holds several surprises. First, it is far and away her most narratively dense and dialogue-heavy film. Second, it finds Denis channelling David Lynch, evoking Twin Peaks (1990-91), Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Dr. (2001), not just in terms of mood but also in specific images and plot turns. The curious mixture of shock, grief and inevitability that permeates those works is also evident in Bastards.

  • Inexplicably relegated to second-tier status at Cannes, Claire Denis’s revenge thriller is her most viscerally unsettling movie in more than a decade—and paradoxically, her most accessible. (It’s also her first shot on video—viva her longtime collaborator Agnès Godard!)

  • The pleasures of Ms. Denis’s films are in the crystalline beauty and mystery of her images, and the way that she puts all these images, including her expressive faces, into play with the fragmented dialogue and vaporous themes... The story grips you entirely even if Ms. Denis’s worldview here finally feels like a tomb: terrifying, pitiless, inevitable.

  • ...Bastards drains away potentially valuable context in a manner that brings us closer in to the hero, intensifying our empathy with his befuddled desperation to penetrate the heart of the debasement and abuse that haunts the film like a malevolent specter.

  • This puzzle of a movie... evolves into an ugly realization, an impossibility of catharsis. We drown together with the fate of the lead, and the finale (wonderfully shot in digital) overwhelms us with the realization of what we have just seen. Les Salauds is a difficult film, but an ultimately satisfying experience that puts Denis far beyond her contemporaries, a unique view still standing strong.

  • Though less formally opaque than Denis’ 2004 feature, The Intruder, its terseness and sustained forward momentum will surely create questions in the minds of even the most seasoned filmgoer. While everything in this half-noir, half-Greek tragedy will be explained, Bastards is a film that begs for — and is worthy of — multiple viewings.

  • Bastards is indeed a hard film to love. It’s wicked, painful, and soul-sick. It’s also the best new release I saw in 2013... More than anything else it’s that moral distinction between despair and sorrow that makes this a Lynchian film. Darkness, nihilism, anxiety — these are relatively easy conditions to reproduce on screen. Lynch has an innate and uncanny talent for expressing the transcendent loss that inevitably accompanies violence and human tragedy. That is what Denis taps into here.

  • The lower light conditions also induce a high degree of grainy abstraction, and tend to bring certain colors and tonal values -- brownish-reds, hot whites, and golden yellows -- forward while cooler colors are engulfed by the swell of black. This darkness, which we have seen in films as varied in atmosphere as Friday Night, Trouble Every Day, and 35 Shots of Rum, has an unexpectedly straightforward application here, since Bastardsis as close as Denis has come to making a film noir.

More Links