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Twentynine Palms
Twentynine Palms
Actors: Yekaterina Golubeva, David Wissak
Director: Bruno Dumont
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror
NR     2004     1hr 59min

From Bruno Dumont, one of the leading visionaries of world cinema, comes Twentynine Palms, a mesmerizing story of love, sex and evil set deep in the Joshua Tree desert. While scouting for a photo shoot location, an Americ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Yekaterina Golubeva, David Wissak
Director: Bruno Dumont
Creators: Georges Lechaptois, Bruno Dumont, Dominique Petrot, Allen Bain, Axel Möbius, Christel Brunn, Christoph Thoke, Darren Goldberg, Jean Bréhat, Jesse Scolaro, Muriel Merlin, Rachid Bouchareb
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror
Studio: Wellspring
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Letterboxed - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/21/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 59min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

Curious, Unsettling, and Highly Questionable
Stephen C. Rife | Saint Paul, MN United States | 05/18/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)

"When I rented TWENTYNINE PALMS, I knew it would showcase Bruno Dumont's taste for dispassionate portrayals, violence of various sorts, and shock. In spite of this mental preparation, this very atmospheric film built to a grotesque resolution that left me, a seasoned viewer, rattled. Unfortunately, the shock and awe it achieves is short lived. 'PALMS is modeled on the horror film, but, like many of its American cousins, the horror it achieves failed to haunt me. The narrative as a whole left me rattled, yes, but there was also an unsettled feeling, as if a cynic had just talked my ear off. I wondered, "Is there really something to this guy's story, or is just him?" You may also get the sense that the horror of 'PALMS is more about the worldview of the director (or his view of America), rather than the world his storytelling creates.

Sam Peckinpaw's STRAW DOGS is in ways a similar but superior film. I can admire 'DOGS for its many strengths, so long as I avoid viewing it as the MAN-AS-ANIMAL fable that Peckinpaw intended. It isn't that I disagree with his view of humans as domesticated animals. Rather, I see 'DOGS as a rare example of violent drama and technical virtuosity transcending the simplicity of its maker's defense; whether Peckinpaw has a point or not seems beside the point. Of course, the trick with any argument is in having good evidence. In pressing one's point of view, there is often, in or out of the filmic context, an artful description of a scene/scenario, one that reflects the viewer's position. In this way, films have the strange ability to create their own myths, their own arguments. To invest a film with one's views too forcibly can dull the work's independent life with the sententiousness of fables.

Watching TWENTYNINE PALMS, it seems impossible to avoid questioning Dumont's personal views. This is partly due to the fact that so many of the events described in the film are implausible. Lacking believable characters and action, one naturally develops a sense that the director is revealing something to us that we haven't seen; something unique to his vision. If the strange behavior of the two principles was about their uniqueness and their relationship (e.g. as outsiders) then why would Dumont undercut their characterization, denying us a belief in them as individuals, or, more profoundly, as points of identification? I gradually came to view the two principles as an every-couple, with private rhythms and misunderstandings that might appear absurd if made public. And indeed, such details of their relationship are hinted at without the benefit of a backstory for us to know them more precisely. So the couple is particular and thus strange, but lacking particulars/details their value becomes more symbolic. They seem to be a snapshot of human coupling in its most bestial simplicity, dimly framed even in bright sunlight. This seemed like a worthy focus, but Dumont forces it to play against a theme of violence, both seen and unseen. The violent atmosphere of the film was something I couldn't account for until the resolution, and even then with difficulty.

Toward the end of film, we're given a horrific equation of two orgasms: that of the male protagonist and that of his rapist, the film's principle antagonist (aside from the desert). Both orgasms are shown to be dangerous, powerful, and unspeakable (or, at least, not clearly worded). This equation discounts the context in which the orgasms occur, leaving the viewer with no reliable distinction of the protagonists from their insanely hostile environment. Clearly, the bourgeois, carefree lifestyle of the couple is set up to be cut down (a horror convention), but Dumont makes the attack personal in the most perverse way. From early in the film on, the protagonists suggest an inner horror, which is unmitigated by their lovemaking, and perhaps even feeds on their relationship. The irrationality of their environment makes the couple our most recognizable guides on this strange road trip, but they demonstrate their own measure of insanity. The male half of the couple betrays an undercurrent of sadism that eventually explodes as an act of sexualized murder. The female's deviance is less clearly defined, but there are several scenes in which she is shown inviting harm. If our trip, as it seems, is through a kind of anti-Eden, and our guides are an every-couple, with no structured identity of their own, then their deviancy would suggest a kind of universal infection, or nature, rather than an aberration of character. This would also render the criminality of the final scenes uncertain, in light of their amoral setting.

Some would say that the best criterion for judging a horror film is whether it horrifies, regardless of how. This is an unsettling film. It is also an especially tasteless one. In watching this DVD, it may be useful to some viewers that Dumont can be found rationalizing his use of violence (and his violence as an artist) in an interview, in a director's statement, and in the course of the film itself."
"there are no beautiful women; there are no strong men"
J Eric Miller | 09/30/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Referencing the American remake of Breathless and Deliverance (and not in the obvious way) without commenting on them, Twentynine Palms offers up shocking finale for which even the promise of a shocking finale will not prepare you. Often, sudden and violent endings feel desperately tacked on so that audiences have something to talk about and distributors have something by which to sell the film. In this case, however, the finale really causes you to reexamine the material. Bruno calls this an experimental horror film; his interview and statement of purpose are a bit overly-grave and under deep-he repeats himself on but a few points and says very little beyond the idea that he thinks people are really animals. Though that is basic stuff I give the benefit of the doubt to him and assume that we are getting a poor translation. In short, I think the point of the film is better realized in this film itself than it is in Bruno's translated discussion of it.

The demonstration of every human's vulnerability in this film is so graphically and unexpectedly rendered as to make it, in fact, one of the more terrifying films I've seen as an adult. It doesn't mean to remind us of the monster in the closet or the monster in our own hearts so much as it means to remind us that we are flesh and blood exposed to all the monstrosities of the world, regardless the strength of our minds, the intelligence of our emotions. In the end, brutal death is waiting and "deserve has nothing to do with it".

It brings to mind the Charles Bukowski quote: "There are no beautiful women; there are not strong men". For in this film, everything is broken down.
Joe Bowman | St. Louis | 07/31/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Described by one critic at the Venice Film Festival as the "Brown Bunny" of that year's fest, one finds themselves at a loss of how to accurately describe the film without giving much away, or even giving the film it's justice. Comparisons to "The Brown Bunny," a film I admittedly adored, seem solely justified in that both films are longing, nearly-silent meditations on disturbing subject matter (both by arguably masterful, challenging, and, albeit, pretentious filmmakers). "Twentynine Palms" follows an American photographer and his French girlfriend through the California desert in their existential, stark journey for... that I'm not sure. It's almost hard to defend an appreciation for the film, when it seems so easy to dismiss the film as overtly brutal and (as some would think) boring... and even pointless. Yet Bruno Dumont, who previously caused quiet controversy over his equally-startling other films Humanite and La Vie de Jesus, makes "Twentynine Palms" fascinating in its study of these two individuals (or perhaps two cultures, depending on how you disect the film). Fans -- granted there probably aren't many -- of Dumont's previous films should find the film especially intoxicating, but those uninterested in challenging, shocking motion pictures should probably steer clear... at their own loss."
So You Wondered What Happened to Scorcese's Taxi Driver
Mike J. Rice | Sparta, Wisconsin United States | 05/02/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)


**Major Spoilers**

Twenty Nine Palms was a hard one to watch. First it bored us to death with long, untrimmed scenes, seemingly about not too much.

But I didn't think a film that had indulged itself as much as this one would fail to provide a decent payoff at the end.

Well, the film paid off all right.

A lot of what seems to be aimless ballast in the film turns out to have informed the shocking ending.

This guy who looks and acts like Travis Bickel in Taxi Driver, has a lust for sex even Travis, despite his pent up violence, does not display.

Not that the girl wasn't mostly game, though she complained about the underwater sex act in the motel swimming pool. She said her boyfriend "hurt" her.

A group of marines jump into the pool. 'Travis' then asks Katie if he would still be acceptable if he shaved his head like the raucous marines. She said he would NOT be acceptable, but the marines were "very handsome." This is a very ambivalent response to a pretty jealous boyfriend. The hair theme is pronounced in the film. It is a manlihood issue for 'Travis.' At one point Katie asks Jim what he uses on his hair. He doesn't answer.

The Marine discussion is one in a long series of actions, sex play and significant dialog between the couple that inform the violent end of the film.

'Travis' is ambivalent and a little jealous of those marines that broke up the tryst in the pool. Both the raucous marines and the jealousy theme echo in the rape scene near the end and the devastating Tsunami-like backlash later in the motel room.

There's a theme of isolation in the desert and in the two lovers' almost total separation from everyone as they wander from motel to desert and back again. The most extreme example of it is when the french-speaking Katy leaves the motel after an argument with 'Travis,' but then is so terrified at just the approach of a car on the street, that she finds herself forced to return to her lover's 'custody.' Figure it out, though. This woman does not speak English, while he does, and would not be able to explain herself to desert denizens and Los Angelenos. She has to go back to him and probably isn't that happy about returning.

At one point, the couple watches a father confess he had sex with their daughter to his wife on Jerry Springer. All along, Jim-'Travis' has been showing signs of abject soulessness in discussions with Katie. "I feel sorry for her,"says Katie. "For Who," asks Jim? "The Mother," replies Katie. Then Katie asks Jim, "would you do anything like that? "Are you crazy," replies Jim, unconvincingly. Katie looks at Jim to try to divine whether he is lying. In the right circumstance Jim would have sex with his daughter. Jim turns and smiles. The move convinces Katie it is safe to leave Jim alone with her daughter should she ever have one.

The storyteller is showing us that these two have opted away from civilized ways. In a way, they DESERVE what happens to them for wandering outside the boundaries of civilization. The uncivilized sexual play of the two in deserted and lonely places is still another indication that these two are asking for it. Indeed, their behavior contains the seeds of their destruction.

Finally, there is a need to explain the final scene of a dead naked body in the desert while a lone policeman does a 360 around body and Hummer. There were two scenes in the hotel room, one of Travis stabbing Katie in a manner that mirrors physically what had happened to him in the desert. It should be noted that he has shaved his head in the way that Bickel did in Taxi Driver, a way that Katie has said she would not approve of on him, but WOULD APPROVE OF on the Marines in the pool. See the link between the thugs in the desert and the marines in the pool on the one hand, and the ironic sheering of Jim's own locks in the bathroom before his act of rage against Katie and the World. Jim is re-enacting exactly what happened to him in the desert, coiffed like the skinhead who raped him and the marines who made him jealous.

There's the scene of Jim poised over Katie's lifeless corpse on the bed, then one of the corpse alone on the bed.

So what is Jim doing out in the desert in the last scene? I think it is possible he went out looking for the guys in the white truck and found them. They then stripped him naked again and this time finished the job. A bigger likelihood is that Jim abandoned Katie's body in the motel, drove out to the exact place where he had been raped, and, partly in remorse and despair, partly out of hopelessness, cut his own throat with the same dull knife he first cut his hair with, and then offed Katie.

This might be somewhat hard for some to admit. I'll bet I wasn't the only male who laughed at the irony when the skinhead pulled Jim's pants below his bare rear end and had a go at him.

As Roxie Hart & Chorus explained in a stagey musical number in the movie Chicago: "He Had It Comin'!""