French director Claire Denis has maintained a wonderful run, from her 1998 debut Chocolat to recent efforts such as 36 Shots of Rum and White Material. Her latest, Bastards (Les Salauds, 2013), shows not in the main competition at Cannes – which, as ever, is woefully short on women – but instead in the Un Certain Regard strand. In retrospect, however, this decision might be just for Bastards, a broken revenge tragedy set in a rainswept France – a misstep, if not a downright stumble. A man commits suicide and his teenage daughter, Justine (Lola Créton), is found wandering the streets with blood running down her thighs.
The recently-deceased gentleman’s friend and brother-in-law, Marco (played by Vincent Lindon, who many will remember from 2009’s Welcome), is a ship’s captain on an oil tanker stationed out in the Middle East. However, on hearing the tragic news, he returns immediately to France to find out just what’s been going on in his absence. So far, so Get Carter. Marco moves into a luxury apartment, one floor up from Laporte (Michel Subor) – a wealthy man with dubious business dealings, a young son and a beautiful wife. Somehow, Laporte is mixed up in the dead man’s business dealings, and as Marco cashes in his life insurance and flogs his car, he seems to be plotting some form of elaborate revenge.
At times, Denis’ Bastards becomes positively elliptical; sometimes the exposition is wearisomely blunt. We never get a clear idea of what Marco actually intends to do, short of snooping around and when he is talking to the people who might be able to give him the information he becomes uselessly coy. The characters themselves don’t seem to know what they’re up to. Marco and Laporte’s wife begin a relationship, because he gives her some cigarettes. The clichés then begin to pile up. A gun is handed to Marco with obvious instructions from Anton Chekov.
Lindon does his best with the character imbuing him with a kind of placid charisma, but Bastards seems to be happening to him and his plotting is as half-hearted as Denis’. There is a twist or two toward the end but they are remarkably predictable. It feels like Denis wanted to make genre piece as if she were slumming it and hasn’t fully understood the discipline of the genre she is in. The characters are half-realised and Denis relies on her actors to do what they can with the little they’ve been given.
The 66th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 15-27 May, 2013. For more of our Cannes 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.