Claire Denis douses Bastards in her usual oblique dreaminess, equal parts romantic and malevolent, shot by Denis and cinematographer Agns Godard in inky nocturnal HD that posits the proceedings as a gradual descent into a black hole of vengeance and vice. Yet that style can't fully compensate for a tale that, underneath its gorgeous affectations, proves undercooked, especially during a third act that provides duly titillating answers to its initially beguiling mysteries. After the suicide of his brother-in-law, tanker captain Marco (a grave, intense Vincent Lindon) abandons ship and returns home to help sister Sandra (Julie Bataille), who blames her husband's death on his renowned business partner, Laporte (Michel Subor), and whose daughter, Justine (Lola Crton), has attempted suicide after what a doctor (Alex Descas) claims has been severe sexual abuse. Co-written with longtime collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau, Denis's story is a hallucinatory genre exercise cast in a mold similar to that of Olivier Assayas's 2002 Demonlover, another sleekly modern neo-noir about the entwined bond between corporate malice and carnal deviance. Marco's actual motivations, and the twisted truth underlying his relatives' sordid relationship to Laporte, remain indistinct for long stretches, as Godard's sumptuous camerawork-- full of gorgeous shadows and constricting spaces-- and Tindersticks's ominous score imply terror and chaos just up ahead. When revelations do finally materialize, they cast the film as a nightmarish reverie about the ugly violence of love and sex, and the impotent futility of revenge sought out of guilt. Those themes resonate passionately in the moment, but lose a good deal of their vitality by the finale, which reveals Bastards to be, at heart, more than a bit ridiculous.
Claire DenisVincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Isolda Dychauk, Lola Créton, Grégoire Colin, Hélène Fillières, Alex Descas, Julie Bataille, Michel Subor, Christophe MiossecJean-Pol Fargeau, Claire DenisIFC Films