Noir-infused tragedy Bastards sees director Claire Denis back in her more polarising mode as the dark queen of French cinema, with a work of bewitching atmosphere that veers between the sensual and repulsive. Its elliptical narrative concerns a ship captain, Marco (Lindon), returning to land when a series of hardships strike his sister’s family. The abuse of his troubled niece (Créton), the collapse of the family business, and the suicide of his brother-in-law all seem linked to a sinister businessman (Subor).
Driven by mysterious motives not entirely predicated on overt vengeance, Marco begins a heated affair with the businessman’s wife (Mastroianni), while all involved find themselves caught in a hell they can’t escape, directed by impulses not fully comprehensible, even to them. Endlessly propulsive in its lean storytelling, sublimely shot by Denis’ long-time cinematographer Agnès Godard (her first time shooting on digital for Denis), and bolstered by a hauntingly ghoulish score by Tindersticks, this is a beautiful nightmare of a film that sears in the brain like few others. [Josh Slater-Williams]