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Director: Claire Denis
Cert: <cert>
Genre: Drama
Starring: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Michel Subor
Running Time: 1 hr 23 mins

A shell-shocked, mutilated young girl wanders naked and bleeding through darkened streets. An ambulance removes a body from a Parisian apartment. A grim family tragedy is afoot, one that will bring ship captain Marco (Vincent Lindon) back to land with a soul-destroying thud. Oblique, lurid, relentless, the latest film from Claire Denis is seldom easy viewing.

Still, pay close attention. Bastards ' daring disregard for chronology requires constant engagement. For all the flash-forwards and flashbacks, the overarching narrative is familiar corporate-noir.

Marco returns to the grim embrace of his ghastly family when he rushes to aid his angry, tragic sister (Julie Bataille), whose husband has killed himself and whose daughter (Lola Créton) has been mentally and physically ruined by a sexual encounter that, as her doctor notes, has left the teenager in need of surgical repair. Elsewhere, the family shoe business is going under. Sandra blames all of these woes on Laporte (Michel Subor), a shady, sleazy financier.

Determined to detangle this familial mess, Marco moves into the apartment block where Laporte keeps his mistress (Chiara Mastroianni) and young son. He gruffly seduces his new neighbour as part of an unspecified revenge plot. What can he hope to achieve? And can this film get any more discombobulating? Evidently it can.


Regular Denis collaborator Stuart Staples provides chilly musical abstracts to heighten an already stifling sense of dread. But nothing can prepare the viewerfor the moral decay and baseless behaviour to come. A final (clarifying) video sequence offers a ghastly gallimaufry of capitalist corruption, incest and uncomfortable uses for corn on the cob.

The fragmented, challenging plot is held together by pervading gloom, nihilism and the stench of diseased humanity. The characters and their motivations are less obvious. Working in digital for the first time, Denis and DOP Agnes Godard use close shots and dark hues to foreground the ugliness of the film's pitiless themes. The men here, exemplified by the diabolical Laporte, are all that the title suggests. The women are all enablers of one kind or another, either complicit as perpetrators or as victims.

Bastards is Denis' most eventful, impactful film in quite some time. But one couldn't warmly recommend it.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic