MRR Review: "Bastards"

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Marco returns to Paris after his brother-in-law's suicide, where he targets the man his sister believes caused the tragedy - though he is ill-prepared for her secrets as they quickly muddy the waters.
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MRR Review: "Bastards"

Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: October 23, 2013
Directed by: Claire Denis
Genre: Drama

The frantic opening scenes of "Bastards" set up a big puzzle full of pieces that gradually come together throughout the film. In those scenes, a young woman named Justine (Lola Créton) is running through the streets in nothing but a pair of high heels, with blood streaming down her legs. At the same time across town, a man named Jacques (Laurent Grévill) is beside himself and jumps out his office window to his death. The connection between the two (they are father and daughter) isn't revealed until the movie flashes forward a month to the arrival in Paris of Vincent Lindon (Marco Silvestri), Justine's uncle and the best friend of Jacques.

Lindon is the captain of a boat, but upon hearing of Jacques' death, he returns home to his sister Sandra (Julie Bataille), who is Jacques' widow. A lot of tension exists between the siblings, but Lindon decides he must figure out what would make his friend desperate enough to jump to his death. What he finds out rather quickly is that Jacques was in over his head in debt, most of it to billionaire Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor). He decides to rent an apartment in the same building as Laporte's mistress, Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), and then embarks on an affair with her as a bit of revenge against Laporte, whom he now blames for the suicide.

As Lindon deepens his investigation into the debt and why Jacques ultimately killed himself, he finds some rather disturbing information. He begins to realize that perhaps Jacques was not quite the man he thought him to be, and that Sandra might be complicit in the events surrounding his death. Everyone seems to have blood on their hands, except maybe Justine, who is recovering from the attack that caused her to be naked and bleeding at the beginning of the film. As the mystery of the plot thickens, it turns out that Justine might not be the only one traumatized by recent events, and she may not be the only one who will never be the same once all is revealed.

Director Claire Denis has a set of collaborators that she frequently uses, from certain actors to her co-screenwriter on the project, Jean-Pol Fargeau. The familiarity she has with these people is evident in the certain ease to the storytelling that makes "Bastards" so intriguing and believable. The twists in the plot and the dreary, secretive lives the main characters lead might seem a tad over the top with any other director at the helm, but in the hands of a seasoned vet like Denis, the story seems realistic. It is still a very bleak film overall, Few if any characters get a happy ending, but the film keeps viewers on the edge of their seats until the final frame. The bleakness of the lives of the characters is arguably the best part of the film, because it challenges the audience to pick a side. Since no one except Justine is completely innocent here, it isn't easy to know who to root for. This ups the film from what could have been a run-of-the-mill revenge fantasy to a thinking person's movie.

The entire cast does a good job with their characters, but Lindon is the real standout here. His character is mysterious because he clearly doesn't seem to like his own sister, yet he is willing to help her recover from the death of her husband. He seeks revenge for his brother-in-law's death, yet he seems to gain no real relief or satisfaction while going through the motions. It's a complicated character, but Lindon nails it from the very first scene he appears in. He has worked with Denis before, and once again, their familiarity proves to be a boon for the film because Denis clearly knows how to draw a great performance out of him.

Many films in this genre allow the audience to know some information before the main protagonist does. In "Bastards," the audience only gains knowledge as Marco does, which means there is really no way to solve the mystery at the heart of the film until the very end. Writers Denis and Fargeau are careful not to reveal the final twist until the last few frames of the film, leaving viewers trying to figure things out right until the end credits roll. In fact, they may even need a repeat viewing just to take in the complicated plot in the film. For those willing to pay close attention and perhaps view the film more than once, "Bastards" is a good film with an equally good payoff.

Rating: 3 out of 5