A haunting nightmare in a Parisian dystopia, Claire Denis’ Bastards is an infernal cacophony of sex, blood and broken families.
Inglourious by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
From Beau Travail to 35 Shots of Rum, Claire Denis reunites her usual cast including Colin Grégoire, Vincent Lindon and Alex Descas. But with its pulsating dark vibrations and fleeting images of a dystopian Parisian underworld, it’s Trouble Every Day that Bastards resembles the most. Again it’s Vincent Lindon leading us through hell, but there are neither traffic jams nor vampires here. For with its elliptic and kaleidoscopic narrative with its premonitions and flashbacks, Bastards is nothing like Denis’ previous films. There’s a rumbling score by The Tindersticks, as well as an oppressive atmosphere of erotic violence and a dangerous admixture of personalities, but its story is more artful and less linear than ever before, as Bastards reveals itself in an overwhelming hallucination of images.
Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) is a naval captain, who abandons his post to care for his sister (Julie Bataille) and niece Justine (Lola Créton) when he finds out his brother-in-law has committed suicide. Piecing together the suicide note, his sister’s lies and the bankruptcy facing the family shoe factory, Marco goes on a mission to uncover the truth about his niece’s addiction and abuse, and to track down the rich businessman Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor) breathing down the family’s neck for money. Moving in to the empty flat above the Laportes’, he raises some capital by selling his Alpha Romeo and his watch. And after fixing Edouard son’s son Joseph’s bike, he begins an affair with Edouard’s wife Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni). But as he approaches the horrible truth of Justine’s secret life as a sex-worker, his affair with Raphaëlle puts the Laporte family into an impossible situation.
Built up of fragments without much care for chronology, Claire Denis’ Les Salauds creates a haunting atmosphere of anxiety. From unexplained sequences of Joseph’s bicycle abandoned in a wood to Justine wandering the streets of Paris naked and bleeding, there’s a menacing blend of flashback and flash-forward that doesn’t sit in a comfortable, straightforward narrative. Lindon plays Marco with his habitual savage grace, giving up his well-paid stability as a ship’s captain for aggressive sex and violent outbursts. He doesn’t quite fit the mould of naval officer, his black leather jacket and sunglasses making Marco a Brando-like rebel rather than an avenging angel returned to restore order. But he is nevertheless our conduit into the truth – albeit fragmentary and for Marco short-lived.
And it’s an unsavoury revelation – that Justine’s father brought Edouard to a seedy sex-club where he had intercourse with his own daughter. Although it’s perhaps more repulsive that her mother knew and chose to turn a blind eye. But all these illuminations are rapidly made meaningless as Marco meets an untimely end – the unwitting stumbling block in the Laporte family reunion. Chiara Mastroianni is distractedly luminescent as the bored, rich housewife looking for some rough excitement, but Bastards‘ erotic tension is diffused through its scatter-gun chronology and its slowly pieced-together ramshackle thriller plot, which doesn’t quite hold the film together or tie up all its loose images – an enigmatic puzzle, but missing a few pieces.
Hell is other people, as Sartre said. And for Claire Denis it feels like it’s these other people who are the bastards; the abusive father, the controlling big shot, the neglectful mother or the treacherous lover. Even Marco is embroiled in this immoral maze, only with an honest kind of brutality in violence and sex. He’s content to stem this blood curse and prevent it from reading his own family, sealing himself firmly within his family’s infernal bloodlust. And yet Denis’ film ends hopelessly, in carnage, emptiness and despair. A deeply disturbing cacophony of troubling images and a haunting soundtrack, Claire Denis’ Bastards offers with its exploded narrative a provocative (if ultimately unsuccessful) challenge to its viewers, but leaves a shock wave that burns long in the memory.
Bastards is released on 14th February 2014 in the UK