sun 26/05/2024

Bastards | reviews, news & interviews



Claire Denis spins a web of venality and revenge, in a noirish Parisian thriller

Who's playing who? Chiara Mastroianni and Vincent Lindon embark on a dangerous liaison in Bastards

Whenever someone wants to dispel the gender simplification that female directors only make feelgood films, they wheel out Kathryn Bigelow, whose action movies are cited as being tougher than any man’s. It’s a spurious debate, admittedly, but if we were to play that game I’d definitely bring Denis into Bigelow’s corner. The Frenchwoman doesn’t do action, per se. But her films can be tough as nails, black as pitch, and as disquieting as they are marvellous.

Denis can be sweet, for sure. Despite its urban tensions, 35 Shots of Rum is a touching account of father-daughter affections. But for the most part the director likes to look at our darker tendencies. Beau Travail is an account of male jealousy cranked to the max under the desert sun; White Material captures the violence and chaos of post-colonial civil war, swirling around one of Isabelle Huppert’s maddest creations; Trouble Every Day is one of the few vampire films to seriously give me the creeps, not least because these creatures appear so very real.

Marco is the sort of man you’d want by your side in a bar fight, but not to speak to either side of the brawl And as its title suggests, Bastards doesn’t beat about the bush, at least as regards the immoral depths to which its characters descend. You might say it’s a revenge drama, though the guessing game that Denis subjects us to lends proceedings a film noir hue. As is often the case with her, the storytelling is opaque, leaving us to claw at an understanding of her characters and their motivations.

Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) is a supertanker captain, a man of few words who prefers life at sea than at home with his former partner and their children. But when his sister Sandra (Julie Bataille) calls him urgently to Paris, he dutifully returns. Sandra’s husband, and Marco’s old friend, has committed suicide; their daughter Justine (Lola Créton, pictured below) is in hospital, deeply traumatized, after being found wandering the streets naked and bloodied; the family business is about to go bankrupt.

Sandra lays the blame for all this disaster at the door of a powerful businessman, Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor, pictured below) and wants Marco to exact revenge. Marco moves into the same apartment building as Laporte, his mistress Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni) and son. He watches, and waits.

As told through Denis’s trademark prism of refracted time and perspective, deducing this much isn’t straightforward. As for what happens hereafter, it’s a case of hanging on and enjoying the mystery – not just of what really happened to Marco’s family, but what his own game is. The more he discovers about Justine’s experience – which involves a sex ring and more that doesn’t bear thinking about – the harder it is to gauge our gruff hero’s intentions.

The central enigma is the sexual relationship that develops between Marco and Raphaëlle. Does he seduce her as part of a cunning plan to get back at Laporte, or because of genuine attraction? Does she respond out of boredom, unhappiness or her own attraction?

Lindon, a solid, beefy, proletarian personality, who appeared as a most unusual romantic lead in Denis’ Vendredi Soir, here makes an atypical hero. Marco is the sort of man you’d want by your side in a bar fight, but not necessarily to speak to either side of the brawl.

That said, he’s the only real source of light in the film, a character who is gradually betrayed by everyone around him. Mastroianni has a difficult task, playing a kept woman who tolerates the snake-like Laporte in her bed, apparently content with the comfortable life this affords. The actress’s subtle performance offers a character whose pronounced emotional pragmatism offers the film’s stunning denouement. 

Around the central pair are many of the director’s regular actors – Subor, Grégoire Colin, Alex Descas, Florence Loiret Caille; off camera the old team includes cinematographer Agnés Godard and composer Stuart Staples.

Overleaf: watch the trailer to Bastards

Bastards doesn’t beat about the bush, at least as regards the immoral depths to which its characters descend


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters