The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Bastards</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Bastards

A sailor plots revenge against the businessman responsible for the ruin of his sister's family.

Directed by: Claire Denis
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille, Lola Créton, Michel Subor

Merchant sailor Marco (Lindon) returns to France following the suicide of his brother-in-law and the hospitalization of his troubled niece (Creton). The latter, he is informed by a doctor, has been subjected to horrendous sexual abuse. Discovering successful businessman Eduard Laporte (Subor) is the man responsible, Marco moves into Laporte's apartment building, at great personal expense, and seduces his trophy wife (Mastroianni) while plotting a violent act of revenge.
The non-linear narrative can work effectively and is best employed to evoke the contrast between two time periods. Think how well it works to illustrate the breakdown of relationships in Blue Valentine and The Broken Circle Breakdown. All too often, however, it's employed in a gimmicky fashion, usually to make an uninspired narrative appear a lot more interesting and complex than it actually is. That's certainly the case with Bastards, the provocatively titled new film from France's most celebrated female auteur, Claire Denis. The story is a lot more straightforward and unoriginal than you're initially led to believe by Denis's chopped up narrative and by the film's conclusion you're left asking "Is that it?", thanks to being teased throughout that you were being fed something a lot more substantial.
Bastards may not be shot with a male gaze (though you wouldn't think it from the manner in which Denis's camera frequently scans Creton's naked physique as though performing a full body x-ray) but it's certainly exploitative. Denis revels in the gory details of her story like a 14-year-old schoolboy attempting to shock his English teacher with a provocative essay. Creton's abuse is relayed to us several times, through dialogue (a doctor bluntly describes the damage wrought on her genitalia), suggestive images (a bloodied corn cob discarded at the scene of the crime), and finally an explicit look at the footage filmed of her rape. The latter is implausibly over-stylized, with camera angles that contradict the camera placement we've earlier been made aware of, and the musical accompaniment creates the appearance of a post-watershed music video. It's a glossy treatment of a grimy incident.
The central plot of Bastards owes a lot to John Ford's classic tale of obsessive revenge, The Searchers, but in Denis's film it's hard to swallow that Creton would want to remain with her particular abductees, given the level of abuse Denis relates to us. Lindon is impressive in the Ethan Edwards role but it's difficult to buy his carefree seduction of Mastroianni, who falls for him immediately (Lindon is no George Clooney).
There's an immature streak running through contemporary French cinema, with too many film-makers wasting their talent courting controversy. Unfortunately these are the Gallic movies that seem to be getting all the attention. Let's not encourage them any further.

Eric Hillis