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.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.