An unfortunate Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) is forced to abandon the navy ship he captains to rush home to Paris and come to the aid of his sister Sandra (Julie Bataille). Her husband Jacques (Laurent Grevill  )committed suicide, her daughter Justine is mentally disturbed as a result of  unexplained sexual abuse and the family business, a shoe manufacturing plant, is in financial ruin. What links these tragic events is one Edouard Laporte (Michel Supor), a financier with whom Jacques was involved in some shady business. In an attempt learn more about Laporte and thereby wreak revenge, Markus moves into an apartment in the same building as Laportes mistress and mother of his child Raphaelle (Chiara Mastroianni)

“Bastards” begins well, giving the impression of a dark but intriguing tale. With its dreamlike sequences and a haunting soundtrack, the echoes of David Lynch are clearly obvious. It is a noir-like puzzle where we sometimes have trouble telling apart the three women in Marcos life, Sandra, Justine and Raphaelle.  In terms of style, Claire Denis´ provocative direction and the cinematography by Agnes Godard work well in providing a dark and unsettling atmosphere. The sound and visuals of the rain coming down in sheets in the chilling opening scene are evocative as is the soundtrack from regular Denis collaborators, Tindersticks.

The use of close up shots of the characters faces add to the films intensity and Lindons weathered but ruggedly attractive looks are very photogenic. He gives a great performance as the would-be hero, so also does Mastroianni as his sullenly sexy lover. Michel Supor, though given limited time onscreen considering he is rather an important piece of the puzzle, does well in carrying off the corruptness of his character. The rest of the cast are wasted in their minor parts as they are never given time to develop.

Once Marco starts his torrid affair with Raphaelle, the plot starts to drag and like a “horny” Hamlet, his plans of revenge seem to peter out and it’s as if he forgets why he started paying attention to her in the first place. What starts out as purposely mysterious becomes needlessly obscure. If you are used to fragmented unconventional narratives, it’s not really that difficult to work out what’s going on but Denis tries too hard to turn what could have been a stylish revenge thriller into an jumble of pretentiousness.

Suggestive imagery is not always a good thing. Some of the scenes in “Bastards” are blatantly shocking and unpleasant.  A shocked naked Justine( Lola Creton) walks the dark streets while blood drips from her vagina. When Marco discovers what was a hidden sex den in an old farmhouse, we are subjected to grossly unsubtle images of a blood drenched corncob and a semen stained red couch. Putting aside this lapse into bad taste and muddled narrative, Denis distinctive style could have saved the film but the final vile and disturbing scene brought it beyond redemption and left a very bad taste in my mouth.