New French Extremity #1

July 30, 2008

In 2004, James Quandt wrote in Artforum, ” The New French Extremity sometimes looks like a latter-day version of the hussards, those Celine-loving, right-wing anarchists of the ’50s determined to rock the pieties of bourgeois culture; but for all their connections (shared actors, screenwriters, etc.), the recent provocateurs are too disparate in purpose and vision to be classified as a movement.”

In the case of Dumont’s Twentynine Palms, the film’s provocations, meant to disarm the stereotypical viewer adjusted to the familiar rumblings of cinematic narrative, fail to evoke a sense of empathy or understanding for its characters. Arguably, the film strongly delivers on its “shock” value, exposing charred human repulse in the most vulnerable of circumstances, and the denouement in Twentynine Palms accomplishes its primordial purposes of inciting disbelief and awe, its intensity further amplified by the utter lack of cognizant events for the most part until then. But what is one to make of the meaningless violence? Quandt probes further:

“What new or important truth does Dumont proffer that his audience needs to be slapped and slammed out of its sleepwalk into apprehending? In his sophistry, Dumont may place himself in the tradition of provocation, from Sade to Rimbaud to Pasolini, but Twentynine Palms has none of the power to shock an audience into consciousness evident in the elliptic violence of Bresson’s L’Argent, the emotional evisceration of Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore, or the bitter sexuality of Pialat’s A Nos Amours.”

The film’s masculinity overwhelms and erodes whatever arousal it prompts within the common man during its numerous sex acts. Ballistic grunts and screams almost echo within the distant sky or the nearby ceiling. The hummer, imbued as a phallic symbol, is the vehicle of transport in which the two main characters, struggling to communicate, spend most of their time in. Darren Hughes, in his Senses of Cinema piece, writes:

“As an example, when all is said and done – after the endless driving, the pain-faced orgasms, the countless miscommunications, and the brutal, brutal violence – Twentynine Palms, I think, is really a film about a red truck.”
I think I agree.

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