> Volume 6 > Number 24


Bruno Dumont

David Wissak
Katia Golubeva

Release: 9 Apr. 04

Twentynine Palms


In Bruno Dumontís previous films, The Life of Jesus and LíHumaniť, the settings were the small towns of northern France. These burgs displacement from the rest of the country -- especially the oft-filmed Paris, Cannes, Marseilles, and Nice -- is reflected in the citizens, none of whom really seem to exist in conventionís la vie franÁaise. Their fates are mostly depressing, and the lack of humanity within these towns becomes a catalyst for their own self-destruction.

In his third film, Twentynine Palms, the setting may chance (now the deserts of southern California) but the ruin remains. As a integrative gesture, Dumont has found a parallel between the French and American ethos, never playing favorites. Even without knowing who the director is, the way he treats his characters from the very beginning (ominous framing, languid editing, atmospheric sound) has the realistic bite of a fatality waiting to happen. The whole film is like those moments in horror films where thereís a sudden wide shot with a victim in the foreground and a completely open background the for the killer to enter.

Thereís more than an hour of Twentynine Palms effectively portraying this scenario, usually never to fruition. That the pay-off does come -- not necessarily in the body of a Jason-like enigma, but something far more disturbing and insidious -- feels forced. After sitting on the edge for more than two hours, whatever cessation of the promise comes awfully unsatisfying. The precarious way he treats them is positively Haneke-esque and the inopportune decision to never really engage the audience outside of some amazing cinematography serve only to the detriment of the experience.

This is especially disappointing considering the philosophical genius that often underlies the sadism. He portrays the untranslatable romance at the center with a sharpness that makes Sofia Coppola looks like a complete novice. His idea of Americana, with its empty gaze amid beautiful landscapes, is piercing, but the pretext of Armageddon for Adam and Eve isnít particularly obliging to the plotís more mature themes

©2004, David Perry,, 11 June 2004