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  •  REVIEW: TWENTYNINE PALMS

    Twentynine Palms

    "Palm" de terrible

    The self-consciously empty "Twentynine Palms," by the French director of "The Life of Jesus" and "Humanité," is almost two hours of anti-American tedium punctuated by twenty minutes of random badness.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    Maybe this is how the French plan to get us back for the Iraq War and the "freedom fries" thing.

      
    TWENTYNINE PALMS
    Written and directed by: Bruno Dumont.
    Cast: Yekaterina Golubeva, David Wissak.
    Cinematography: Georges Lechaptois.
    In English and French with English subtitles.
     SCHEDULE
    Walter Reade Theater
    Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam
    (212) 875-5600
    Sat. March 20 at 6:30, Sun. March 21 at 9

     RELATED ARTICLES
    Rendezvous with French Cinema 2004
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  • In "Twentynine Palms," French filmmaker Bruno Dumont has scribbled off a hate letter to America, but it's the kind of movie that you can only make if you know nothing about our country except what you've seen in fast-food restaurants, SUV commercials and "Deliverance."

    The basic story is this: A man and a woman are driving a huge red Hummer through the California desert. And for 1 hour 50 minutes of the film's 2 hours 10 minutes (it feels more like 2 years 10 months), that's all we get. They sometimes stop to fuck. David (David Wissak) is an American who speaks a bit of first-year French, and Katia (Katia Golubeva, the weird sister from "Pola X") is a Russian who speaks heavily accented French and only two words of English ("ice cream"). Barely able to communicate, they almost never say a sentence of more than five words to each other. Only once — long after we have — does either character get tired of this existence. As David rants, in the movie's only thought more complex than "See Spot Run":

    Twentynine Palms  
    "You know something? I'd like to have some conversations that have some logic to them, because sometimes you say one thing and then you say another thing and it's completely dysfunctional!"

    "Je t'aime," Katia answers, dysfunctionally.

    Completely dysfunctional is a very good description of "Twentynine Palms." It's hard to know what Dumont — whose previous efforts ("The Life of Jesus," "Humanité") ranged from good to fair — intended with this movie. But if he had any goal in mind, perhaps it was to make a film with absolutely no content whatsoever.

    Want characters? We have none. We don't know what they're thinking (except when they're thinking, "I want to fuck now"). We don't know anything about their backgrounds — how and when they met, why they're driving through the desert (there's a sentence about "looking for locations," which they never do), where they got their new red Hummer, whether they ever had a single experience in their lives before this day or they were just released from test tubes in adult form that morning. The most that can be said about them as human beings is that they are little balls of emotion, occasionally laughing, crying or getting mad.

    Want a story of any kind? Keep dreaming. Literally, nothing happens for almost the entire movie. They drive, they eat, they swim. Did I mention they fuck? The sex is rather explicit, but it isn't passionate sex or dramatic sex or even porn sex. It's more like nature-documentary sex. They never so much as kiss (not even a "freedom kiss"). The leadup to sex, when there is one, consists of David approaching Katia and saying, "Open," and then they go at it for about a minute, as absently as a couple of hippos in a pond. And then it's game over and back to the car. It's nothing sex in a movie about nothing people doing nothing in the middle of nowhere for no reason. I think that's the effect Dumont was going for.

      Twentynine Palms
    (There happens to be one scene where the movie makes fun of its own vacuousness. David and Katia sit on a motel bed watching what appears to be the view from a slowly panning security camera at night. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?" she asks. "Art film," he says.)

    Twenty minutes from the end, after almost two full hours of boredom (but the good kind of boredom, the kind that gives movie critics something to write bad reviews of), I wrote on my notepad: "I mean, this is a movie. I want something movie-like to happen. Like one person locks the other out of the car and leaves them to die in the desert. But that won't happen. I know how it's going to end — they're just going to be driving and then it will say 'The End.'"

    Seconds after I wrote that (and my companion was thinking the same thing at the same moment), a major shock happens, shaking up the last 20 minutes of the movie pretty thoroughly. It's not like we care a whole lot, since it's a totally random occurrence and, after all, we've spent a total of zero out of the last 110 minutes bonding with these characters, but at least something has finally happened.

    To a French person, especially one who's never been here, this film might look like a stinging indictment of America. The "Twentynine Palms" America is a land of bad people, bad food, bad decor, bad TV, bad cars, bad sex and bad French. But there's no sting to it because there's no statement being made on any level. To an American, it just looks like the emptiest two hours you could ever spend — and that's exactly what it is. I've seen worse movies but never one this dumb.

    MARCH 12, 2004
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Twentynine Palms:

  • 29 Palms   from daniel stefik, Mar 20, 2004
  • The Brown Bunny meets Homer Simpson   from Vlad, Mar 22, 2004
  • twentynine palms   from Bruce Talbert, May 7, 2004
  • Re: twentynine palms   from Joshua, May 7, 2004
  • Re: twentynine palms   from Bruce Talbert, May 17, 2004
  • Re: twentynine palms   from Dan Stefik, Jun 12, 2004
  • Re: twentynine palms   from cristiana, Apr 24, 2005
  • Another Dumont masterpiece   from pieter, Aug 25, 2004
  • Re: Another Dumont masterpiece   from manish, Feb 24, 2008
  • Hey!!!!!   from , Feb 10, 2005
  • Thanks for ruining it for me!   from Gorn, Apr 26, 2005
  • Re: Thanks for ruining it for me!   from jerm, Jun 19, 2007
  • point personality   from Liam Shepherd, Aug 13, 2005
  • Re: point personality   from Ian MacDonald, Feb 22, 2006
  • Re: point personality   from Dan, Mar 19, 2006
  • [no subject]   from , Jan 14, 2007
  • This movie suxxx   from conroexlexx, Jan 31, 2007
  • Re: This movie suxxx big time   from France is Getting Dumber and D, Mar 21, 2008
  • Twentynine Palms   from tristan, Mar 30, 2007
  • wax and bilingual movies   from Felix, Jun 6, 2007
  • Re: wax and bilingual movies   from Jerm, Jun 19, 2007
  • Pathetic movie   from Disgusted, Jun 6, 2007
  • Re: Pathetic movie   from Jerm, Jun 19, 2007
  • Re: Pathetic movie   from Karina, Feb 3, 2008
  • 29 Palms is a dumb French movie   from Carmen, Feb 29, 2008
  • "Palm" de terrible?   from Urdhr, Feb 29, 2008
  • Re: [no subject]   from eve, Mar 27, 2008
  • Re: [no subject]   from , Jul 8, 2008
  • Self-indulgent Crap   from PK, Jan 3, 2009
  • Re: Self-indulgent Crap   from Scott, Nov 5, 2010

  • Post a comment on "Twentynine Palms"