Review by Trylon volunteer Elizabeth Doyle.
The word “elliptical” has been tossed around a great deal when discussing Claire Denis’s latest film, Bastards (Les Salauds), a noir set in Paris. It is a shadowy puzzle whose dark subject will not be illuminated, at least not enough for us to comprehend the horror of events until the end. In the beginning, we see a young girl walking naked (save for a pair of high heels) down a rain-slicked cobblestone street, her expression opaque. We will return to this girl from new angles and with more comprehension as the film progresses, shedding light on the context of this troubling image.
The drive of the film is this: Marco (Vincent Lindon), a ship’s captain, has given up his post at sea to return to the city, heeding the cry for help of his sister and niece (the wearer of the heels), following the suicide of his brother-in-law and the impending bankruptcy of the family business. We are told that behind these family tragedies there is a powerful man, Edouard Laporte (a hollow-eyed Michael Subor), whom the law cannot touch. Marco is, we assume, returning to sort this thing out since the police will not. Following his return to land, he quickly moves into the apartment building where Laporte’s mistress, Raphaelle (played by the captivating Chiara Mastroianni), lives, and the two become involved.
The world of Bastards is one of immense loneliness, most palpable in a scene where Raphaelle curls up on her bed next to an empty white shirt that she has carefully laid out in the shape of a man.
There is hardly a single eye in the movie that doesn’t reflect despair. In the beginning, Marco and Raphaelle take turns watching each other on the street from their balconies, their heads surrounded by obscuring tendrils of cigarette smoke. We get the sense that these people will never truly know one another, despite sexual encounters and attempts at understanding through fragmented conversation – they will remain as distant as that street and that balcony always were.
Though little is said, the few words spoken mean much. Denis herself has compared the script to barbed wire – “thin and pointed”. When characters do speak, they say things to each other like, “You’re alone. You’re in this thing all alone.”
The violence takes its time to unravel, always alluded to ominously, boiling just below the surface. For instance, violence lurks beneath the story of sexual abuse Marco hears about his niece. Later, he is handed a gun and told that he will need it. Directly following the receipt of that grim gift, we are shown a dark road so laden with curves that we cannot see what waits ahead.
This is a chilling and beautiful noir worth seeing, with the harrowing end reveal set to a Tindersticks cover of an old Hot Chocolate song. Bastards has the power to turn stomachs.
Elizabeth Doyle resides in Prospect Park, works at a food cooperative, is interested in everything (Gemini), plays accordion, dances, enjoys exploring tiny cinemas abroad when she can, and will strike up a conversation about movies with anyone.