2006, Movie, NR, 86 mins


French director Bruno Dumont's follow-up to his slow-motion horror show, TWENTYNINE PALMS (2004), is a literal change of pace for a filmmaker known for slow rhythms and endless long-shots. While not exactly speedy, the tempo of his fourth feature is closer to that of a commercial filmmaker, and it could even be called a genre movie: Much of the action involves a French-speaking army regiment in an embattled, unnamed desert country. Still, the piece has similarities to Dumont's previous work, including his use of unconventional-looking, non-professional actors, an almost animalistic depiction of sex and a persistent questioning of his characters' motivations and morality.

Like several other young men in his small, rural community, Andre Demenster (Samuel Boidin) has been called up for military service. In just a few days, Andre will leave his farm to fight a war in which he seems to have little interest — he doesn't seem to know where his regiment is being deployed — and his only regret seems to be leaving Barbe (Adelaide Leroux), the young, sexually promiscuous neighbor he's known all his life and secretly loves. But like other men in town, Andre shares a frustratingly casual relationship with Barbe, and he's too shy to express his true feelings. On one of his last nights home, Andre watches helplessly as Barbe flirts with the good-natured Blondel (Henri Cretel), who will also be joining Andre's regiment, then has sex with him in the parking lot of the local tavern. The regiment is shipped off to a dry, dusty terrain (the war scenes were shot in Tunisia, though the exact locale is never mentioned in the film) where Andre and his fellow soldiers — including hotheaded sadist Briche (Jean-Marie Bruveart) — conduct reconnaissance missions in and around empty, bombed-out desert villages. But if war brings out the best in some men, it brings out the worst in Andre, who repeatedly proves himself capable of cowardice, cruelty and craven betrayal.

With very little dialogue and lingering shots of the landscape — always a very important visual trope in Dumont's deep-psyche explorations — the film is nevertheless tighter and, clocking in at under 90 minutes, relatively brief. It's as though Dumont, having grown bored with testing everyone's patience in films as brutally languorous as THE LIFE OF JESUS and HUMANITE, decided to distill all that's good about his work into one potent and satisfying feature, and the result ranks among his best efforts to date. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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