Bruno Dumont presents his audience with a rigid image of humanity. His protagonists’ quest for intimacy is lost in miscommunication and ends in violence. Love is sometimes possible but is destroyed by the loved ones themselves. We already saw it in ‘L’humanité’ (1999) and this theme is also reworked in ‘Twentynine Palms’.
The narrow greyness of the northern French landscape as a backdrop for human emotions makes way for the panoramic wild west in ‘Twentynine Palms’. It works wonderfully. We see a couple in love that is completely absorbed in themselves. The woman takes the man into her emotional wonder and the man takes the woman into his sexual. The two of us are so close to the skin that their breathing can be heard and felt almost constantly. The only witness is the American desert landscape, in which you can disappear unseen from the consumer society. It is not only the background but also the fuel for the intimacy of David and Katia, where the passing of a freight train or the sound of an industrial wind farm in the desert has a hushing effect.
It is no surprise that this does happen, given Dumont’s earlier work. You’re more or less prepped for a shocking denouement by the couple’s petty quarrels. Yet it cuts in; the film ends in a two-stage rocket of violence. Love has to die and as if one time is not enough, Dumont takes it one step further. You may wonder if it is necessary, but the director reaffirms his reputation as a hacker. During the Rotterdam Film Festival, the full house certainly gave it a round of applause.
A film with two actors – the other people appearing on the screen are at most active extras – demands a lot from the actors. Debuting film actor David Wissak is the good-natured but neurotic-aggressive David; Katia Golubeva played her half-brother’s lover in ‘Pola X’ (2000) with Catherine Deneuve and Guillaume Depardieu and is a somewhat selfish child woman here. Lyrically little is expected of them, but in terms of frame-filling silences and body language all the more and in that respect they fit well together and in this film.
It is not nihilism, but to say that these two somewhat irresponsible individuals are growing towards each other is an exaggeration. Cannibalistic love seems to be what Dumont wants to show. But beautifully portrayed.