In the opening remarks for the film, Bruno Dumont described Twentynine Palms as experimental film in articulating sensation without narrative through abstract, dissociated forms, teasingly remarking that “a Manet without figures is a Rothko”. An American photographer named David (David Wissak) and his French-speaking, Eastern European lover Katia (Yekaterina Golubeva) set off from Los Angeles in their Hummer, ostensibly to scout locations in the Twentynine Palms area of the California desert. Restless, increasingly bored with the endlessly barren sights, and unable to have substantive conversations due to language limitations, the two alternately bide their time driving, eating, swimming, and engaging in primal, uninhibited couplings, creating their own romantic (or at least sexual) odyssey in the vast desolation until a terrible act destroys their seemingly primitive existential paradise. In his earlier film (and arguably, his best to date), L’Humanité, the alienated and terrifying opening image is that of a violated body splayed against the eerily tranquil landscape; a similar shot exists Twentynine Palms but without the catalytic mystery (in a scene that is uncomfortably played for humor) nor the depth of torment and personal agony that results from the discovery. Had Dumont cut the final ten minutes of the film (i.e. the aftermath), the resulting indelible parting image would have been equally eviscerating and difficult, but nevertheless, a haunting and effective (albeit tragic) statement on the inviolability of love. In his self-described desire to erase the characters completely – compelling them to dissolve permanently into the landscape – in order to create a more abstract, filmic installation that conveys the essential experience of terror and violence, what seems left is an infinitely more troubling artistic expression: the shell of a Dumont film without the humanism or process of compassionate revelation …without a soul.
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