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BASTARDS (Les salauds) (review)

BastardsBASTARDS (Les salauds)
Written by Jean-Pol Fargeau and Claire Denis
Directed by Claire Denis

Starring Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastoianni and Michel Subor

Claire Denis’ new film BASTARDS is a brilliant rollercoaster ride that is undeniably her darkest film yet. The film is extremely puzzling and may require two viewings from some filmgoers to fully grasp its complex plot; once fully absorbed though, it is a truly rewarding film. The film is painfully dark from beginning to end; its dreary tone is sure to resonate with viewers days after seeing the film. It is not only memorable because of its plot and visuals, but also due to its haunting techno score by frequent Denis collaborators, English band, Tindersticks.

The film opens with a downpour on the streets of Paris. A man paces around an office, about to jump to his death. A young woman walks down a street, completely nude, safe for her high heels; she has blood between her legs. A month later Marco (Vincent Lindon, who is featured in Denis’ Friday Night), moves into the same building as Edouard Laporte (frequent Denis collaborator Michel Subor), the man who may be responsible for his brother-in-law’s suicide. Marco crafts a plan to take revenge on Laporte, the first step of which involves him beginning a torrid affair with Laporte’s younger girlfriend Raphaelle (Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni, in a stellar turn). Through this journey, Marco learns about himself, and unearths disturbing facts about the relationship his brother-in-law shared with Laporte. To say anything more of the film’s plot would be to tarnish Denis’ intricately woven puzzle.


Besides Lindon and Subor, the film features many actors who have previously worked with Denis, including Alex Descas, Grégoire Colin, Florence Loiret Caille, and Nicole Dogué. The acting from all involved is strong, but Lindon’s performance stands out the most. Lindon’s Marco is an extremely believable character. Though his intentions may not be in the right place, the audience will still root for him against the villainous, Laporte. Denis puts the audience in Marco’s shoes; we are kept in the dark the same way his character is. She reveals things to the audience as they are revealed to Marco, treating us as equals.

And the returning players don’t stop there. BASTARDS is wonderfully shot by Denis’ go-to cinematographer, Agnès Godard. Godard, who usually paints Denis’ films with beauty, chooses in this film to paint it with malice. Darkness is found in many of the shots, as it is in the entirety of the film.

Vincent Lindon

Some people will take issue with the fact that Bastards can be slightly hard to follow. Denis does not spoon-feed her audience and makes them do the necessary work to understand the brilliance of her film. BASTARDS is a very demanding film that requires viewers’ full attention for its short running time. Go to the washroom once and you can miss an extremely important detail of the film.

BASTARDS is another example of why Denis is one of the greatest directors working today. With this film, she is absolutely fearless with her intimate style and subject matter. Like many of Denis’ films, this one is both extremely erotic and dreamlike; but this film is a much different kind of dream than her other films; BASTARDS is an undeniable nightmare.

One thing can be said for sure about BASTARDS is that after seeing it, you will never ever look at corn on the cob the same way again. Trust me.


Highlights from the BASTARDS Q&A with Claire Denis.

“It’s not my most funny film,” Claire Denis warns the audience while introducing her newest film, BASTARDS (or “The Bastard” as she calls it herself) at a special screening as part of the “Objects of Desire – The Films of Claire Denis” series, currently running at TIFF Bell Lightbox. This is an understatement. Denis knows, just as much as anyone who has seen it knows, that BASTARDS is one of Denis’ darkest, and most daring works. She makes a quick joke about TIFF sponsor L’Oreal before exiting the theatre, obviously not looking forward to the Q&A to follow. This is a resume of that Q&A.

It is strange to think that Denis didn’t initially realize what a dark and heavy film she had made. She says, “I was told by Stuart who composed the music, from Tindersticks, ‘This one is really hard.’ And I said ‘Ah, really? You think this one is harder than the others?’ I believe him so much that only through him I understood [how dark the film was].”

One of the most difficult things about BASTARDS is its closing scene. Denis leaves little to the imagination when she finally shows the footage recorded in what I’ll call the ‘sex barn’. One audience member, even though she insists that she thought it was necessary herself, asks if Denis ever considered cutting it out. “Someone from the selection committee at the Cannes Film Festival says ‘Claire, really, can you consider cutting the video footage at the end?’ and I was so amazed…it’s the residue, it’s the only thing that is left. No, of course, no. Otherwise there is no film for will be unfair”


The audience now realizes that Denis takes a long time answering questions. Only two questions have been asked and already almost fifteen minutes had passed, so everyone in the cinema hopes that the next questions are strong, and that the answers may shed a new light on the film.

One man asks about Denis’ influence by William Faulkner in regards to making this film. “Yes, bravo, bravo.” Denis applauds smiling. “The sweet corn I borrowed from Faulkner. There is always something in Faulkner’s novels that when he starts to take you inside his story, you already know that something inevitable is going to happen. It is the fate…The pride is to know that inevitably you will suffer.” Denis is obviously a great admirer of Faulkner’s work. Denis and the man have a long back-and-fourth over Faulkner’s novels. “I was touched by him as a writer. I had to reread his novels every ten years. He’s such an inspiring writer for film because you don’t have to interpret his novel; you don’t have to translate his novel. He gives you the air your characters are going to breathe.”

It is hard to describe Denis’ form during the Q&A. Though it appears that she is happy to be there, she answers and speaks as if she is in pain. “I’m sorry, I feel like I’m in a police office and I have to answer if I’m guilty or not.” Denis jokes, before saying, away from the microphone, “Yes, I’m guilty.”


Denis is then asked about her process for writing films and where she gets her ideas. She answers, “It’s not sudden, and it’s not a concept…Suddenly something crystallizes, it’s a moment where I can figure out something is possible. It’s the moment for me to describe to myself at least one scene. In this case I remember the first scene I sort of visualized.” Denis describes an important scene of the film featuring Chiara Mastroianni’s Raphaelle and her much older partner, Edouard Laporte. Then she tells an intriguing story of where she first got the idea for the sex barn, which is certainly the most interesting point in the Q&A. “There was a nightclub in Paris; it’s always closed down, you don’t see a thing. There is a secret door and limousines stop in the night there. One morning in the summer, they open the door and they clean. They put all the furniture outside and completely clean the place. I could see those round red beds, dirty, stained. I saw this nightmarish place with horrible carpeting and I realized that in the daylight you could see everything and probably in the night it is very a sexy place in a way. Sexy for having sex, not sexy in a sense of attracting. It was so disgusting. I was watching the carpeting, the curtains, and the plastic on the red beds. It was not like watching hell; it was like watching a part of humanity so real, so concrete suddenly because it was in the daylight.”

After getting slightly sidetracked, Denis returns to the question at hand. “For me, if I decide on a concept, then I’m sure it won’t work. It has to be a sort of knitting of elements that together could give the feeling that there is a sort of tune coming.”


It was a rewarding experience to hear Denis talk about one of her greatest works. BASTARDS is the type of film that is so brilliant that even the director herself has a hard time explaining it. It is a truly rewarding experience that is different for each person that sees it.

“Objects of Desire – The Films of Claire Denis” runs through November 10 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information, please visit

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