(Note: this trailer contains fleeting partial nudity.)
Some thrillers set out to move you and others aim to mess you up. “Bastards” (***, unrated, in subtitled French and English) the prestige shocker from director Claire Denis, is a ravisning example of emotionally assaultive moviemaking. Its fact-inspired story about recent French sex ring scandals fuels a tense, fatalistic film noir to haunt your darkest nightmares.
The film’s elliptical editing fragments the story into a jigsaw of disorientation. With an eerie electronica score by the British indie pop band Tindersticks, the film weaves together themes of corporate greed, revenge, incest, infidelity and suicide.
Craggy, handsome Vincent Lindon plays Marco, an oil-tanker captain who abandons ship after receiving an SOS from his family. His brother-in-law has jumped to his death, the family shoe factory is in ruins, and his teenage niece (the luminous Lola Creton) has been hospitalized following a sexual assault. The man at the center of these sprawling events appears to be a tycoon (Michel Subor). Marco, determined to probe beyond the cursory police reports, sets out to seduce and entrap the man’s much younger mistress (Chiara Mastroianni.)
Literally and figuratively in the dark for much of the film, Marco gropes toward answers that elude us as well. Swaths of story don’t make sense, but neither do the daily headlines. But Denis creates an immersive sense of dread that’s hard to shake. Her work here combines the masterful visual control of Michael Mann, the creepy atmospherics of David Lynch and the labyrinth plotting of Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” She conjures a world where an unguarded moment of emotion can be as dangerous as a bullet. “Bastards” is an imperfect film but a perfectly mesmerizing one.
(7 and 9 p.m., Dec. 16-17, Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Av., Minneapolis. Admission: $8, Call 612-424-5468.)