24 September 2006 | dbdumonteil
the being and nothingness
A photograph David goes looking for locations in the Joshua Tree area in the Californian desert with his girlfriend Katia. They don't speak the same language and the most palatable means of communication between them are gestures and looks. As soon as they arrive in this desert landscape, they bicker then reconcile each other, have sex, wander in the surroundings. And an impending, unshakable threat is just around the corner. One can feel it but one can't see it during almost all the film...
I stand in awe for the French filmmaker Bruno Dumont who could be Robert Bresson's heir, would it be only by his minimalist approach about the writing of a film and his way of filming. His two unique works, "la Vie De Jésus" (1997) and "l'Humanité" (1999) which had a strong connection with "le Journal D'Un Curé De Campagne" (1951) revealed a new, fresh auteur who delivered a thoroughly novel vision of the cinematographic genres the two quoted films belong to. This third offering as unsettling as its two precedent partners is very close to a mix of road-movie and horror film. One thinks of the horrendous "the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974). But like his precedent efforts, Dumont won't follow the rules and will rather relinquish the codes of the genre.
His experimental piece of work holds his own mark. First, there's still this palpable sense of space which he has perhaps never tapped so well here. Anyway the scenery and the landscapes of this Californian desert were ideal for him to set out his stalls. This barren place has something both startling and eerie for it could be in the first place an equivalent of the garden of Eden. The sequence in which David and Katia are all naked on the rocks make inevitably think of Adam and Eve. This is a divine vision of a world which seems forever gone. These landscapes are also repulsive because dangerous. Nothing happens in them and danger could come out at any moment.
There's no real storytelling in "Twentynine Palms" like in Dumont's debut "la Vie De Jésus". It isn't really a handicap because the filmmaker knows how to grab the audience's attention with an unconventional, courageous approach of cinematographic writing. The film includes quite numerous static shots with a painstaking work on the sound which often sounds dirty Basically, the film showcases a love between two very different characters but this love and so this fusion between them is impossible. The scratch on the 4X4 is a concrete sign of this doomed love. Then, what fascinates Dumont in this failed loving relationship is the animal side which sleeps in them. It's the filmmaker's duty to awake it and it better explodes during their wild sexual intercourse which inconveniences the audience like the scenes in the swimming pool and the motel bedroom.
"Twentynine Palms" is also a typical work from Dumont because he wants the viewer to take part in his experiment. It means he wants him to arouse questions about what he can watch on the screen and especially about the main characters' thoughts. But also, to bridge the different steps of the evolution of the film (it would seem irrelevant to use the term "story" as there is virtually none here). Very simply, Dumont wants to put this crucial premise of the cinema to the forefront: a film is a link between its director and the audience and for Dumont it's up to the viewer to express his standpoint about the contents and form. "Twentynine Palms" is the antithesis of Dumont's second film, "l'Humanité". In this whodunit, the main protagonist Pharaon De Winter was deeply affected by the woes and sorrow in which this "humanity" was steeped in but it didn't stop him from sharing their grieves. In the Dumont 2003 film, humanity is virtually absent and even constitutes a danger (perhaps the main one) because it breaks the fleeting harmony of the couple. Consequences could be disastrous even gruesome.
It is impossible to leave this film indifferent which leaves none glimmer of hope. It could occupy a prominent place in the category of the "either you like either you hate" films and if you're tired of watching films made in a trite manner, this one is waiting for you...
But beware! It's better to have nerves of steel to watch this work.