Saturday, May 27, 2006

Twentynine Palms (Dumont, 2003)

Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms is the kind of arthouse film that makes people hate arthouse films. It spends the first hundred minutes of its runtime testing the viewer’s patience and then follows that up with fifteen minutes that insult the viewer’s intelligence. Like Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny, it is structured around a trip through the desolation of the American west. There are copious shots of travel and cars disappearing off into the distance and empty, lonely roads. I’ve seen these shots numerous times before, mostly at the conclusion of family vacations where we would watch our homemade video only to discover that somebody let Dad spend a little too much time in charge of the camcorder. What those videos didn’t have however and which Twentynine Palms does have are numerous scenes in which a young couple stops for desperate, often ugly sexual release. Far from being gratuitous, these scenes are absolutely necessary to Dumont’s vision because they are pretty much the only thing that keeps us awake in between the tiresome quest for naturalism.

Twentynine Palms
is a film that would not dare stoop to anything so bourgeois as conventional exposition, humor, or coherent human interaction. Rather, it is a film that begs with every inch of its empty soul to be interpreted as metaphorical or existential. While these interpretations are possible, they don’t make the film much more deep and they certainly don’t make the experience of watching it any more tolerable. Though Dumont makes every effort to withhold information about his central couple from us, we are able to pick up a few things. We learn that she is fearful of something in her past, that the two haven’t known each other long, that they are making an attempt to escape human interaction, that he really likes to have sex and would someday like to see her pee. The couple only has one meaningful interaction with other human beings throughout the course of the entire film, a moment of ugliness offered without explanation and mostly free of dialogue. However, Dumont saves his most laughably tasteless excess for the film’s climax, a scene that rivals High Tension in its potential for causing permanent brain damage. I suppose Dumont hoped that his film would be open-ended and able to support metaphorical interpretation; however, with the spare, unimaginative stimulus that he offers us, I have no idea why anyone would bother doing the heavy lifting.



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