Release: 9 Apr. 04
BY: DAVID PERRY
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.