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Twentynine Palms | Review

Enjoy the Violence

Unforgettable road trip is a a disastrous film.

One does not have to wait until the conclusive controversial ending to find something not to like about Bruno Dumont’s third film, an exercise that tests the viewer’s patience with a lack of narrative and filtrates it with a lapse of time and space as inspired by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. The categorical differences between him and the Italian filmmaker is that here the emptiness is dragged on for two painfully long hours and offers nothing as a recourse, except for a stab wound ending that gives the viewer this irrelevant indigestion of rape and violence as dessert to a full course meal which as no merits except for being utterly annoying.

Initially Twentynine Palms follows Van Sant’s lead of Gerry embarking us on this visual voyage where the narrative set-up gives us two people on a quest of wandering aimlessly with their four wheels along the empty roads in the American desert. The film may seem as a road movie which will explore the companionship of a location scout and his predatorial manners versus his French girlfriend with bad driving skills, but not much is divulged in this relationship except a paradigm of pain and pleasure as witnessed in the tenderness and a series of violent outbursts between the two.

Fundamentality, Dumont’s film orbits around two pairs of themes, one is this scale of death and sex where the common driving force between the two is associated by violence, and the other is this notion of voids and emptiness and the desire to fill-up a person’s needs and/or desires. Dumont elaborates on this idea by supplying the film with a foreshadowing sequence at a gas station filling up the hummer’s tank and which is later expressed through the stupor expressions on one’s face as a result of a really good orgasm. He then parallels these moments with long shots that explore the desolate space, a sequence about a dog without a leg and a series of long takes which explain the emptiness found inside the characters. The equation is summed up by empty thoughts of the characters, the emptiness of the wasteland and the lack of a narrative filled up by watching the characters seal themselves up with love, hate, food and a variation sexcapades.

The film’s most factual understatement comes when the protagonist claims that “there is nothing to understand”. This year’s version of Irreversible injects the unsettling and purely unpleasant images for the purpose to shock, adding to this is a complete lack of story or insight which will frustrate anyone trying to figure out the need for such a film. It is needless to go into the details about the film’s intent which is painstakingly non-existent or irrelevant to the filmmaker. Twentynine Palms should be avoided at all costs.

Rating 0 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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