Twentynine Palms

A real piece of you-know-what. A movie full of surfaces but with exasperatingly little to say. Bruno Dumont has talent for texture and closely felt sounds, but he’s so absolutely lost in his head that he forgets about storytelling. Even if you’re making an “Art Film,” as Dumont is so convinced he is doing from the first frame of this moronic exercise to its last, you need to practice the basics of pacing, of infusing your scenes with enough meaning as to make them worthwhile. Twentynine Palms is two hours long but felt like twice that; sitting through it is like trying to get out from under a foul, sluggish animal that just dropped on top of you out of a clear blue sky. I appreciated the moral nihilism of the movie — how Dumont pits these two worthless characters into a situation of total demoralization — but it yields absolutely nothing. Its philosophy is two-dimensional: people use each other, they’re arrogant, hateful, or else pathetic (e.g. Golubeva’s Katia, who allows herself to be forced upon by that scraggly-haired reptile of a man and comes back for it over and over again with coos of “Je t’aime.”).

On nearly every level, this is conceptually stunted (read: retarded), grossly indulgent (every bit as Lars von Trier’s horrid Dogville) and a waste of time (at the very least). Good photography, though, and hats off to Golubeva and Wissak: They play two inert characters — Wissak’s David is irredeemably smarmy and Katia just a shrinking violet with no self-esteem whatever — for going whole hog into this. Ultimately, Dumont has too little to say, too much time on his hands, and worst of all an over-inflated sense of himself as an artist-philosopher. Either that or he’s just, by nature, a maladjusted egomaniac.

Grade: D

Directed by: Bruno Dumont
Written by: Bruno Dumont
Cast: Yekaterina Golubeva, David Wissak

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