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Twenty-nine Palms
cast: Yekaterina Golubeva, and David Wissek

director: Bruno Dumont

114 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
It just so happened that I had a copy of Bruno Dumont's previous film, L'humanite (1999) sitting around on video, a quid of a purchase, so prior to watching the director's new film, Twenty-nine Palms, I thought I might study his style through two films. Lauded by critics, loved by my fast forward button. L'humanitie was a badly filmed drudge, woefully performed, incorrigibly dragging its rudimentary plotline over an unnecessary 143 minutes. It was unconvincing on every front. Call that a policeman, call that an investigation, call that acting, call that an intelligent being, call that funny... call that continuity? My only assumption is that in a stultifyingly average week of crash, bang, wallop, Hollywood attention seeking this damp no-go of a film was the essential chill-out room for the exhausted critics. An opportunity for the press to post-it a 'do not disturb' notice on their foreheads, throw their feet over the viewing-theatre chairs, and nod off with one eye open. Several times I thought I imagined I heard the song for the tortoise from Fingerbobs. If reviewing L'humanite here, I would have been pained and struggled to find that one out of ten when rating. Instead watch an episode of A Touch Of Frost or the Sky One series A Mind For Murder, if you must, for murder investigations in dank and dull communities; I am certain it would be more interesting.

Twenty-nine Palms is an improvement, but only because it is beautifully shot by Georges Lechaptois and has a photogenic couple, Katia and David (Yekaterina Golubeva, David Wissek), to take you through the proceedings. It also has a genuine passion to it. It broaches the insane extremes new love can take a person to. The sex is realistic, or real, the orgasms felt, consistent with the kind of orgasms met when both are honestly, considerately, targeting those joint throes, that rare consideration by a couple for one another in sex. Making love. I certainly doubt such has never been captured in a porno film. A question hangs over the film, whether the two were disturbed and damaged to begin with or are being driven insane by their love. With its portrayal of loving intensity and upsetting, fearsome, unanswered querying, this should have been enough to impress, but it isn't. They are, along with the cinematography constants but instead of adding to the remarkable it removes interest in other ways.

The couple travel California, mostly by desert roads and tracks, the occasional driving lesson, the expected amount of sex, culminating in some local yokel violence and rape, and the almost immediate death of the lovers as a result of their inability to cope with the sex crime. That is not only the synopsis but also the treatment and virtually the completed screenplay. The highlight is the nervous sequence with the dogs, where this seemingly (at least initially so) intelligent girl suddenly goes idiot on us and encourages the three-legged mutt to follow the vehicle as it moves away from the dog owner's property. But the scene ends with several problems, questions that should have been answered if only to prove some logic. Does she not see her role in the dog's new injury, furious as she is with the driver-boyfriend who does not show enough concern for the animal's welfare post-accident? What exactly did happen to the dog, as with the shock out of its system it can seemingly pick itself up and hobble away, the nature of the injury is unclear. They got a paw or the tail?

Dialogue is sparse. Dumont argues that it is a visual medium and for the most part it should be told in pictures. Reasons given aside, the little dialogue in the two films only suggests to me the truth is that Dumont is simply crap at writing it. "I'm hungry!" says Katia... "You want a hamburger," responds David... "An ice-cream," counters Katia. Learning to drive she asks: "Can you tell me were the brakes are? Can you tell me were the accelerator is?" The dialogue is never natural. Everyone sounds retarded. "What are you thinking?" ... "Nothing!" He watches an experimental movie that has found its way miraculously on his motel television set (Thomas Demand's Hof / Yard): "Je pense est un art film. It's amazing!" And, of course, it isn't, and David is not going to clue us into what makes it so amazing. He is to remain idiotically pat. Though a highly paid photographer, researching locations, he is a dolt with pretensions that he does not even have the wit to attempt to bluff properly through.

Dumont considers Twenty-nine Palms Lynchian and his horror film. It is neither. He does not have the imagination for surrealism and the violence and death at the end of the film may have in the past pushed and qualified a film, like Looking For Mr Goodbar (1977), as of interest to horror film fans, but the running time of an average feature-length film has already passed before it gets that nasty and then, again, with no real imagination. It fails to shock because we fail to care enough about them. The Last Great Wilderness reached its genuinely gruesome finale by way of sporadic appearances of a ghost in a venue and on locations that were sub-gothic. Twenty-nine Palms has more in common with Breathless (1983) or Zabriskie Point (1970) than it does a horror flick. Dumont will doubtlessly churn out many more films, particularly as there are people determined to find some way of loving his work. Whatever it is, it is gratefully lost on me and I will hopefully have the sense not to squander several hours on him again.
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