French filmmaker Benoît Jacquot often crops up in discussions of overlooked auteurs of contemporary French cinema. His work is quiet, understated, and rarely finds a wide audience. Yet, efforts like Farewell My Queen, A Single Girl and The School of Flesh are heralded as among the best French efforts of their respective years. However, for every effort that wins the heart of niche audiences, the rest of his films are divisive and alienating. While a lack of consistency is perhaps working against him, many of his contemporaries are even bigger gambles: François Ozon is responsible for some beautiful films but more of his efforts are outright misses, and even heavyweights like Olivier Assayas deliver as many misses as successes. Perhaps it is the quietness of Jacquot’s style that works against him, his best efforts coming across as understated and his worst as dull.
Every detail matters in the films of Claire Denis. Her latest, and unquestionably her darkest film yet, Bastards, contains a wealth of information in its first few shots: a man on the verge of what we learn to be a suicide, pacing about his office with the rain crashing down outside, a naked girl, wearing only heels, slowly inching her way down a darkly lit street. We re-visit the latter of these shots later in the film, but under a completely different and disturbing context. Denis is back working in full L’Intrus mode, and while Bastards isn’t nearly as impenetrable as the aforementioned 2004 film, it’s an elliptically charged work that challenges and seduces with its wide gamut of unsettling images and sounds.