Sunday, April 20, 2014
TWENTYNINE PALMS (2003) - Bruno Dumont
So you're watching Twentynine Palms and for the first hour or so you're thinking: "OK, relationship verité." A couple on a location scouting vacation in the California desert. He's an obnoxious American (drives a Hummer). She's a Russian émigré and somewhat naive. The director is OBVIOUSLY French. Long takes, very little narrative, no hang-ups about full-frontal nudity (male or female), an appreciation of desolate landscapes. There are occasional bouts of very realistic sex in swimming pools, motel rooms, or on nude hiking trips interspersed with arguments that begin in a flash, go nowhere quicker. We're watching a couple unravel or grow closer or remain locked in stasis while going through the motions. Whatever. It's French, and they're on vacation. It's interesting, but you feel like you've seen it all before. I believe they called it French New Wave.
Then something happens (which I won't spoil). Something that upends everything that's come before and reminds you: "I'm not just watching a French verité style film or another so-called New French Extremity entry. What I'm watching is a Bruno Dumont movie." If that phrase ("a Bruno Dumont movie") means anything to you, then you probably can take an educated guess what that something is or, at least, the feelings of dread/nausea that something will evoke. I feel a little embarrassed that I didn't see it something coming, but several days later I still have the same queasy feeling it conjured up. Dumont donkey punched this unsuspecting viewer. And did so with aplomb. Now I have to watch Flanders and Hadewijch, don't I?
**Side Note: The male actor in this film makes the most hilariously over-the-top orgasm sounds this side of Showgirls. I have a sneaky feeling Dumont directed him these sonic heights, but, this being verité, hard to know for sure. If it is his everyday levels, my condolences to his girlfriend, boyfriend and/or wife.