Thursday 20 February 2014

Review: Bastards

Yeah: 2013 (UK release 2014)
Director: Claire Denis
Screenplay: Jean-Pol Fargeau Claire Denis
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni

Synopsis is here:

I found myself to be quite bowled over with Bastards. This was a feature that I had no expectations for, yet discovered it to be the type of revenge film that I lust for. Its fractured structure and slow burn philosophy to the nature of its straightforward narrative threw me for a loop. It allows its characters to breathe yet the film wallows in such desolate, nocturnal tones it becomes suffocating.

It starts simply enough, a death, a sexual assault, a dysfunctional family and a hinted plot for revenge but slowly (very slowly mind) becomes something twisted and unnerving. Pieces of the puzzle are given to us but Denis’ film is all about its foreboding mood. It wants us in the squalor with the characters we’re watching. We need to be drenched in the same filth as them. When we slot the pieces into place the film wants us to know that the entire picture is ugly.

While the sums of the film’s parts are pretty standard, it’s Denis’ focus on character that sways things. The film plays with the same type of sleazy cynicism that littered Ben Wheatley’s Kill List. The people we watch may hold wealth, but slip into the backside of Paris so well they become near camouflaged. Protagonist Marco Silvestri’s (a brooding and craggy Vincent Lindon) outer shell of affluence betrays a corroded core brought on by his secretive and destructive family. It’s no surprise that we find their once successful shoe company now plumbing the depths of bankruptcy. As the film ploughs on, the liner plot has us guessing how it all slots in, yet the themes point to ideas of business lives being invaded by the personal.

But what really hits you is the tension; a creeping feeling of foreboding and desperation that sits awkwardly with a viewer throughout. Haunting images are glimpsed and loiter in the brain like unshakeable blemishes; an assaulted teen wondering waif-like through the night, a discarded bike we remember in the hands of another character. Denis uses these moments not only to disconcert us but to keep us locked in the films distilled bitterness. By the end of the film I wasn’t just left with the how and why, but a profound sorrow at the film’s dismissal of innocence and it’s perversion of loyalty. Never has a title been so apt.