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If you’ve already overdosed on Christmas cheer, you won’t find any more effective counterweight at the movies than the latest film by France’s Claire Denis, who takes her nation’s love of film noir (they named the genre, after all) to a new level.

The protagonist (noirs never have “heroes”) is Marco, played by the glumly handsome Vincent Lindon. The captain of an oil tanker (“I’ve cut myself off from everyone—it’s what the navy is for,” he unnecessarily says late in the film), he returns home to help his younger sister Sandra (Julie Bataille). Her husband has committed suicide; the family shoe factory they inherited from her father is facing bankruptcy; and their teenage daughter Justine (Lola Créton) is in the hospital with sickening wounds and various addictions. (There may be a French film that has a young woman named Justine who is not meant to remind us of De Sade’s tale of debauched innocence, but this isn’t it.)

For all of these woes, Sandra blames a neighboring businessman named Edouard Laporte. Setting out to investigate him, Marco falls into an affair with Laporte’s wife, Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni).

Then again, Raphaëlle may only be Laporte’s mistress. Clear details are always hard to come by in one of Denis’s films, which include Beau Travail and White Material. Bastards is certainly not a film you can watch without giving it your full attention: It opens with a swirl of characters in dramatic moments that grab your attention but frustrate your understanding, and a lot here is never explained. The chronology of the entire is at best cyclical, though that may indicate a pattern that doesn’t really exist. Like any noir victim, Marco is doomed from the moment he steps into this foul world. With a droning score by the band Tindersticks, Bastards sets out to make you feel that the world is an evil place, and largely succeeds.

Presented by Little Red Booking, Bastards will be screened at Squeaky Wheel (712 Main Street, Buffalo) Wednesday (12/18) at 7pm.

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