Combustible Celluloid
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With: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille, Michel Subor, Lola Crˇton, Alex Descas, Grˇgoire Colin, Florence Loiret Caille, Christophe Miossec
Written by: Jean-Pol Fargeau, Claire Denis
Directed by: Claire Denis
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 83
Date: 10/23/2013

Bastards (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Captain's Quarters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great French director Claire Denis has never been much for plots. She's more about mood, atmosphere, as well as focusing on the relationship between her characters and their environments. So it's an intriguing idea that she should take on a "film noir" type story, a genre that relies both on mood and on plot. The result does not necessarily rank with her greatest work, though it is certainly intriguing.

Vincent London (from Denis' Friday Night) stars as Marco Silvestri, a ship's captain who suddenly returns to Paris when he learns of the death of his brother-in-law. (This news so obsesses him that he seems to have no plans to return to work.) He meets with his sister (Julie Bataille) and learns that the tragedy may have something to do with a wealthy businessman, Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor).

Marco rents a huge apartment, seemingly so he can spy on Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), who is involved with Laporte and has a son with him. Marco and Raphaëlle begin sleeping together. The reasons and connections in all this are fairly obtuse, as Denis simply begins concentrating on sensations and expressions. A powerfully sensual filmmaker, she can convey anything from menace to lust in a single gesture. Her camera lingers on hands and faces and tells volumes about them.

But since the story clearly has a lot going on in the plot department, and because Denis deliberately avoids explaining it, and because the settings are so interior and enclosed, it almost feels as if Denis is a little lost. It's as if she's not quite as immersed in this story as she has been in some of her past masterpieces.

Early in her career, she made another crime film, I Can't Sleep, that told the story of two killers in an apartment building, seemed clearer and more compelling. But Bastards is still a success, and one that any lesser filmmaker should be proud to add to his or her resume.

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