The Bastards (Les Salauds)- Review by Helen O’Leary
This contemporary film noir is about a quest for revenge. Marco is a sea captain who returns to Paris to take vengeance for recent and disturbing events that have befallen his sister’s family. Marco’s brother in law has taken his own life having become enmeshed in shady business deals with a ruthless businessman. The same malevolent businessman, Laporte, has also been accused of brutally abusing Marco’s young niece. Plotting a reprisal, Marco rents an empty apartment above the residence of Laporte’s partner Raphaelle and their son. His first move is a calculated seduction of Raphaelle, the partner of Laporte. What at first seems a straightforward plot with clearly drawn heroes and villains quickly becomes more twisted.
This film doesn’t portray the classic romantic image of Paris. The chic apartment living and the women with effortless style don’t paper over the seedier, grimy version of the city that is presented. This is typical of director and writer Claire Denis, she is known for her provocative films and exposing the harsher side of modern French society. The film makes a strong point about the manner in which some French men wield power over women. Even the almost hero Marco makes a calculated female conquest to get closer to his enemy.
The dialogue in this film is spare. The Parisians are not a tribe of incessant babblers and there is a notable absence of small talk between the characters. It works well as a sub-titled film as much of the story is pieced together from fragmented scenes rather than what is explicitly stated. The strong performances by Vincent Lindon as Marco and Chiara Mastroianni as Raphaelle also make this work.
The low-key visual style of this contemporary film give it a much older feel. The sombre story line is well matched with a musical score by Tindersticks. However it is an undeniably bleak film with sinister and disturbing undercurrents of sexual abuse. If you seek an uplifting and love affirming cinematic experience I would give this one a skip. However if you are more of a realist, and don’t wish to deny the harsh and disturbing version of modern life portrayed, this film will have you gripped. But perhaps don’t bring your Valentine’s date!