TIFF 2013: 'Bastards' (dir. Claire Denis, 2013)

On his first day at TIFF 2013, Alex Ramon applauds two startling French features, the latest works from Claire Denis and Alain Guiraudie, that both twist the suspense thriller into fresh territory.


France, 2013 -- dir. Claire Denis

Heaps of high heels. A naked girl wandering through a city street. A blood-stained corn on the cob. A pulsing, tensing Tindersticks soundtrack... Yes, you've guessed it: here's the latest impeccably brooding enigma from the imagination of Claire Denis. Though less confounding than some of Denis's work (2004's The Intruder still takes that particular prize), the none-too-invitingly titled Bastards (Les Salauds) certainly takes its place as one of Denis's darkest and most disturbing offerings to date.

Referencing Japanese cinema as she did in the considerably warmer-toned, Ozu-inspired 35 Shots of Rum(2008) (here the allusion is to the noir films of Akira Kurosawa), Bastards is, at its heart, a revenge thriller. Vincent Lindon plays Marco, a supertanker-captain who's called back to Paris by his desperate sister Sandra (Julie Bataille) to help sort out some pressing problems. The seriously strung-out Sandra places the blame for her family's woes -- which include financial disaster, her husband's suicide and the exploitation of her teenage daughter Justine (Lola Créton) -- squarely at the door of the weathly businessman Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor). Marco ends up moving into the building occupied by Laporte's mistress Raphaelle (Chiara Mastroianni)and it's not long before he's bonding with her son and Laporte's son and starting an intense affair with Raphaelle herself. But Marco isn't prepared for some of the skeleton's rattling around in his own family's closet.

It's a pretty straightforward premise, then, but this being Denis-land very little is delivered straightfowardly. Instead of hammering home plot points the movie circles around its characters with rapt intensity -- scrutinising gestures, looks, skin tones (the mole on Mastroianni's face hasn't received this much loving attention since, well... since Christophe Honoré filmed it in Beloved (2011)), all of which are rendered with delectable edgy vibrancy by Agnés Godard's characteristically superb cinematography. If there's not so much as a scrap of humour to sweeten the pill, Denis does incorporate some fond, humane touches that mitigate the movie's overall bleakness a tad: even if it's just the blue icing that Raphaelle uses when she makes a cake for her son at one point.

Reuniting with Denis for the first time since 2003's Friday Night Lindon delivers a commanding, if terminally po-faced, turn as the movie's Toshiro Mifune figure: hero and victim combined. The intense Bataille, the otherwordly Créton, a reliably serpentine Subor and Mastroianni -- fearless and ever more Susan Sarandon-esque -- are vivid in support. (Never fear: there are also cameos for the director's male muses Alex Descas and Grégoire Colin, too.) The movie demands the patience and commitment that all Denis's work requires. But those who persist (and there were a number of walkouts during yesterday's press screening) are rewarded by a hypnotic last quarter, including an extraordinary, inimitably Denis final flourish -- heinous grainy images accompanied by Tindersticks's bewitchingly twitchy take on Hot Chocolate's "Put Your Love in Me" -- that dispenses a chill which the thoroughly discomfited viewer struggles to shake off.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.