Friday, September 3, 2010


Twentynine Palms (2003)
dir: Bruno Dumont

Yikes. I don't really know where to start with this one. I suppose a warning is in order: I don't recommend that you watch this film. I'll probably never watch it again, and I've sat through The Spirit of the Beehive like three times now. This is some tedious shit. It's also some deeply pretentious shit. And some misanthropic French-people-never-actually-laugh shit. But it's also some really, really good shit. As a movie-going experience this could fit pretty comfortably within the Michael Haneke "disgust for/punishment towards my audience" school of hopelessly high-brow pedantic hijinks. Certain segments (alright... most of the film) is iiiinsaaanely draaawn oooouuuut (read: boring) and the ultimate "payoff" is so jarring that you'll probably end up more angry than anything else. Angry at Dumont for putting you through such an ordeal; angry at the characters for simultaneously representing and subverting everything you thought you knew about human behaviour; and angry at yourself for completely missing the point. Despite the often breathtaking landscapes and mathematically-tight shot composition, this is not the cinema of escapism. It's a painting, sure, but a painting with a metric shit-ton of carefully held-back pathos seething within its framed borders. As an experiment in cinema itself, I can't think of much that could make it more successful than it already is. I've read some reviews that compare it to the Adam & Eve yarn about original sin and some totally expected write-offs as just another long-winded meditation on the banal and omnipresent nature of human evil. But personally I think it works better as an unsettling, realistic portrait of a certain stage that most ultimately doomed romantic relationships settle into before the inevitable, messy split. We've all reached that point where communication has crumbled and the only real expressions of emotion towards our so-called better half are fighting and fucking. The two characters in Twentynine Palms are believable because of their painful awkwardness. They barely speak one anothers' language (literally and metaphorically), their physical encounters are random and bizarrely personal: during the (many) graphic sex scenes--which are themselves somewhat refreshing, existing as they do in a touchingly honest series of naturally-lit, non-glamorous encounters--both characters seem completely enveloped within themselves. Sex is not a shared, transcendent experience between these two lovers anymore; it is a violent cry against the inevitable truth of the relationship's futility, an ironically impotent attempt to practice control over the situation, and a selfish final act of stress relief. When the film finally erupts into an unexpected melee of brutality, we as viewers should not actually be all that surprised. Our supposed Adam & Eve have been tenuously perched atop this well-spring of violence throughout the entire film, and several sequences have obviously hinted towards the impending, omnipotent-seeming danger that has surrounded them the whole time. The interesting thing is that we never quite know where the eventual attack will come from. Much like many romantic relationships, our two characters seem to exist within a world where they are the only actual living inhabitants. We can feel the undercurrent of tension between them, hinting at an eventual confrontation that will not be easily solved by the most obnoxious and awkward pool-sex since that hilarious scene from Showgirls. And we can also sense their discomfort within and distrust of the surrounding world, which is itself framed as an undeniably impressive but nevertheless desolate landscape of unseen spaces and unknown motivations. Dumont's film is unnerving as all fuck, especially because anyone who has ever been in a relationship that failed will initially relate far too easily with the barely-likable protagonists. And yes, it does meditate on the nature of evil. It also subverts nearly every road-romance film that came before it by focusing solely on the negative moments of its central relationship as opposed to the adventurous sense of discovery and rebirth that usually shows up in such films. Nothing is fixed in this film, and you'll most likely walk away with many more questions than you are comfortable with, the very least of which being "did they ever even pay for those ice cream cones?"

No comments:

Post a Comment