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Three Women: Bastards

Cristina Álvarez López



Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) in Bastards (2013) is a classic troubled hero. A lone wolf who thought he was in control of his destiny, but finds himself trapped by shadows – i.e., by values and ideals projected onto other people. He discovered too late that he knew too little.


So, let’s give him a second chance by taking his entrance to the family’s abandoned shoe factory as the crossing through a portal for knowledge: a knife that pierces the film, a mise en abyme that frees him of the prison that Claire Denis has constructed for his character. He’s been framed, so let’s allow him to see the whole picture.


A shot of shoes piled on the floor, sinister objects without body. This image of surplus, excess, disgusting sameness, can however illuminate, in an unexpected way, the singular relation that the female characters have with their accessories. (‘Shoes are very important in the film’, Denis admits.)* Marco picks up one of these shoes, looks at it, holds it in his hand. The weight of this seemingly banal object triggers a chain of memories that are not his: a motion picture made of disconnected fragments. Denis’ bits of business with the women’s shoes replay themselves, revealing to the character some of their secrets.


When visiting him for the first time, his lover Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni) wore purple high-heels. If she used them for seduction purposes, Marco may have not realised it; he was too busy cooking for his daughter, and barely had time to direct his eyes to this unexpected visitor’s feet. But we did see them, because Denis filmed Raphaëlle’s entrance to Marco’s apartment from an odd, low angle whose primary function was precisely to point to this detail. Later on, when Marco visits Raphaëlle for the first time, Denis shows us her feet again. This wasn’t a programmed encounter; she’s wearing her usual, daily, not-very-sophisticated golden sandals. Now, Marco realises that he and Raphaëlle were never truly in sync. Always out of phase: when he was ready to save her, she was ready to kill him. Raphaëlle’s partner was ever there, even when he was away – his trace imprinted in the black, fancy high-heels left at the entrance to Marco’s apartment.


Seated next to him in the car, Marco’s sister Sandra (Julie Bataille) takes off her laced shoes and puts on a pair of boots. He is driving toward the country house that has served as the sordid setting for the sexual encounters that are the centre of the film’s plot intrigue, so he misses out on catching this apparently casual gesture. If he had seen it, he probably would have thought that it was simply a practical decision. But now it’s clear that there’s something else going on. By covering her feet, by not letting her skin be in contact with the ground, Sandra is also protecting her inner self from the dirt that surrounds her family debacle. Deep inside, she always knew more than her eyes and ears are ready to process, admit or recognise. And Marco realises that, in order to orientate himself in this family labyrinth from which he has been away for so long, he has chosen a blind guide.


There’s an image of Justine (Lola Créton) that Marco never saw because he wasn’t there. The film fragments this image into three and, at different moments of its unfolding, replays it, each time adding a new detail. Justine walks naked in the city streets; while she advances, the camera slides down, showing her legs covered in blood. She’s walking in high heels, upright, with a serene expression on her face. That’s such a different image than the one Marco projected in his mind, the image of her broken, damaged innocence. There’s something disturbing in her walk and pose, in the firm steps she makes, in her eyes wide open, in what can be perceived as a kind of mad, calm fulfilment. There’s something that doesn’t fit with the facts given to him, something that complicates the status of victim that he has always attributed to her.


Suddenly, the man who knew too little becomes the man who knows too much.

Now Marco understands that shoes can be worn like a piece of lingerie, like a glove or like a precious jewel. The faces of these three women look at him from an unreal limbo, and he sees only darkness. He should have stayed at sea, where there’s still place for light, infinite whiteness, and the blue yonder.


* David Ehrlich, ‘Director’s Cut: Claire Denis (Bastards)’


from Issue 5: Shows


© Cristina Álvarez López November 2014.
Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.