Twentynine Palms

Even adventurous moviegoers who are familiar with Bruno Dumont's previous features (LIFE OF JESUS, HUMANITE) and consider themselves comfortable with his style — long takes, graphically depicted sex, sudden violence — may be taken aback by the intensity of this shocker. Particularly since not much happens during the first hour and 50 minutes of...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Even adventurous moviegoers who are familiar with Bruno Dumont's previous features (LIFE OF JESUS, HUMANITE) and consider themselves comfortable with his style — long takes, graphically depicted sex, sudden violence — may be taken aback by the intensity of this shocker. Particularly since not much happens during the first hour and 50 minutes of this two-hour thriller. David (David Wissak) and his French girlfriend, Katia (Katia Golubeva), are headed out to the California desert town of 29 Palms. It's not entirely clear what they plan to do there, but the few cell-phone calls David makes from the driver's seat of his massive, blood-red Hummer suggest that he's a location scout. David listens to the radio while Katia sleeps; when she wakes up, they hold stilted conversations in French and occasionally argue over nothing in particular. David lets Katia take the wheel for a while, and she drives their massive SUV deeper into the desert, where they make love — loudly — on the barren rocks. When they return to their motel, they have sex in the pool, then walk around the tiny, nondescript desert town looking for something to eat. It's an uncomfortably voyeuristic experience: When Katia stops to urinate in the sand, the audience is privy to what she forbids even David to watch. And while the details of their relationship are ridiculously banal, the world through which they move, often in real time, grows increasingly ominous and heavy with obscure significance. The empty desert roars with unidentifiable sound; a black, three-legged dog follows them down the highway; passing strangers in pick-up trucks scream vague threats for no apparent reason; a clear blue sky rumbles with the sound of an approaching storm. And that indefinable threat invades — or does it emanate from? — their relationship. David creeps up behind Katia, who appears to be emotionally unstable, in the motel pool and forces her head under water; their orgasms are accompanied by tears and screams that are echoed with mocking horror at the film's explosive and wholly unexpected climax. An obvious reference point for this uncompromising film might be Michelangelo Antonioni's maddening ZABRISKI POINT (1970), but this beautifully shot film's spirit is closer to that of Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, in which a group of Australian schoolgirls is mysteriously swallowed by the heat and mystery of the ageless desert. In Dumont's world, the violence may be more prosaic, but it's no less inexplicable.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Even adventurous moviegoers who are familiar with Bruno Dumont's previous features (LIFE OF JESUS, HUMANITE) and consider themselves comfortable with his style — long takes, graphically depicted sex, sudden violence — may be taken aback by the in… (more)

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