The cryptic pull of masterful French filmmaker Claire Denis ("Beau Travail,"
Tanker captain Marco (Vincent Lindon) is called back to Paris to attend to a family disaster involving a wrecked business, a distraught sister (Julie Bataille) whose husband has committed suicide, and their traumatized daughter (Lola Créton). Marco moves into the same building as the melancholic mistress (Chiara Mastroianni) of a powerful tycoon (Michel Subor), which sparks a secretive, erotic coupling that carries implications for both families once grim secrets are unearthed.
Denis, working again with longtime writing collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau, works her enigmatic strands effortlessly, establishing with spare, shadowy assertiveness a matrix of manipulated souls whose sense of self-control is only as strong as their ability to trust. When that's shattered, Denis makes brutally clear in the final act, heaven help us.
"Bastards" is a thriller truly etched in darkness, pools of black broken mostly by the stricken yet soldiering faces of her main characters, like ships in a sea of stormy nights. It's a commandingly atmospheric center from which Denis unnerves about the bonds of family, wealth, power and desire.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: Encino Town Center, Encino. In French with English subtitles.