Twentynine Palms (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two thumbs down. To be honest, it isn't even worth the energy required to turn a thumb down for this laughably inept movie.

Scoop's comments in white:


Twentynine Palms is an arty, experimental kind of film from French auteur Bruno Dumont.

The New York Times wrote:

The filmmaker has described ''Twentynine Palms'' as a horror movie, and its final fit of retributive fury recalls ''Psycho.'' But Mr. Dumont is not a brilliant sleight-of-hand entertainer like Alfred Hitchcock. A former philosophy professor, he is a serious and apparently humorless Hobbesian aesthete who uses film as a pulpit to drive home his messages about the human capacity for violence and cruelty.

I suppose a lot of you already realize that you need to avoid this film, unless you're really into that whole humorless and pessimistic Hobbesian aesthetic. Whatever that means.

If you're curious, I'll describe the film in detail to give you its full, rich, Hobbesian flavor.

A couple drives a red Hummer through the desert. He's an American photographer who seems to be scouting a shooting location in the desert. He's a new kind of photographer in that he doesn't seem to own any photographic equipment. She's his Russian girlfriend. He doesn't speak Russian and she doesn't speak English, so they communicate in halting French.

They drive. He talks on a cell phone while she sleeps. His conversation is tedious. "Yeah, I'm going to Twentynine Palms. I'll see you when I get back." They stop to get gas. They fill the tank in real time. They stop and watch a train go by. The camera is placed in a stationary location while each train car passes in real time. The cars all seem identical. When the train passes, they cross the tracks and wander among a farm of windmills. They drive some more, speaking little. They go to a motel and mess around in the swimming pool. They debate about where to eat. They pause a long time between questions and answers. They go to a Chinese restaurant and order their food in real time. They sleep.

The next day, they stop and wander through the desert naked, again in real time. They attempt sex with minimal success. They climb some rocks. The lie down in the sun. They walk back.

We are now 40 minutes into the film, and that is all that has happened.

In the next 50 minutes or so, they have some great conversations. I think I may have misled you earlier. I should have said that they fail to communicate in French. They buy an ice cream. She says it is good. She says it is not good. She says she loves short hair, Marine style. She says she'll hate him if he wears his hair short. She is clearly not in her right mind, but the film doesn't really explore that in any way. It just is so. She catches him masturbating over a Jerry Springer show in which a man admits raping his daughter. She asks him if he would rape their daughter. He looks at her with disgust.

They walk to a supermarket and back in real time. They have VERY loud sex in real time. When he climaxes, he screams like Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan movies. They drive through the desert some more. They sit around a hotel room some more. She wanders around outside at night. He goes out to find her. They sit separately for a while, then they have a wrestling match in the middle of the street. They sleep.

The next day, they drive through a very rough stretch of desert. Nothing happens. Suddenly they are rear-ended. A pick-up trick drives them off the road. The random strangers from the truck pull them out of their Hummer, strip the woman, beat the man with a baseball bat, then sodomize the man. They do not rape the woman, but they force her to watch the man getting raped. The evildoers drive off.

The couple struggle back to their hotel room. He lies down. She goes for a pizza. Apparently she gets the wrong toppings, because when she returns, he stabs her to death ...

That isn't quite the ending. If you're really hooked, you can rest assured that there is even more rich ore from the same vein of existential angst.

You can tell Dumont is a foreigner, can't you? Talk about clueless.

Those pick-up truck dudes have to be the world's luckiest guys, eh? They decide to pull over a random Hummer in the desert, and

(1) The people in the Hummer never see them coming, even though the two vehicles are literally the only things moving in the open desert for miles.

(2) The people in the Hummer do not own a gun.

Who in the American desert, armed with nothing more than a baseball bat, would take a chance on pulling over a Hummer? That is suicidal. You have to assume that no sensible people would take a Hummer deep into the unpaved parts of the desert without guns and flare pistols and knives and cell phones and other forms of protection. Yes, the photographer and his girlfriend were not sensible people, and could have been in the desert unprotected, but the crazy rednecks could not know that in advance. They had no idea who was in the vehicle!!


The two principals, David Wissak and Yekaterina Golubeva, show all parts of their bodies.

I'll shut up. I guess you probably have figured out by now whether this is your kind of movie.

My own verdict: utter crap. Dumont is clueless, and didn't even bother to think up events which might have some possibility of occurring. The film is tedious and disjointed for all but the last 20 minutes. That final segment isn't boring, but it is filled with behavior which is totally unmotivated and illogical. It makes such legendary pointless films as Zabriskie Point (which this film resembles in certain ways) seem to be as incisive and eloquent as Henry V. 

On the other hand, many, many critics disagreed. Some felt that it was a lesson in the tedium and randomness of the universe and other such high-falutin' existential concepts. I guess they must be right, because this film is a part of the universe, and it is certainly random and tedious.


Tuna's comments in yellow:

Twentynine Palms (2003) is a Bruno Dumont film.

Complete spoilers ahead.

Katia Golubeva, played by Katia Golubeva, and David Wissak, played by David Wissak, are driving backroads in the Southern California desert. Why, we don't know. Periodically, they have sex. Why? We don't know. Then they usually fight. Why? We don't know. They stop in cheap motels each night, and have sex then a fight. Again, we don't know why. The dialogue is an odd mixture of French and English. Then, in the riveting conclusion, they are run off the road by two men, who strip her, then anally rape him. Later, at the motel, she goes out for pizza. When she returns, he stabs her to death, then crawls naked into the desert to die.

Fortunately, the DVD includes an interview with the director, who explained all of this. To insure the actors couldn't develop a character or act, he used their real names, and never showed them the script. The complete lack of plot was intentional. He also was proud that the ending made no sense. His only regret was that the desert was too photogenic. However, only shooting ugly parts of the desert would also have been wrong in is mind. Andy why did he do all of this? To destroy capitalism, and so pave the way for the reinvention of artistic film.

If the above makes sense to you, then you might want to rent this. The IMDb rating of 5.4 of 10 suggests that some think this was a good idea. To me, this was one of the stupidest films I have ever seen. Evidently Dumont was hoping to elicit an emotional response. My only response was wishing it would end. The best part of this film is that I will never need to see it again. Despite some critics, who proved that they can be as pretentious and clueless as Dumont, this is utter crap. No plot, no characterization, no motivation for anything that happens, and most of what happens is boring.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Only 39/100 - but the NY Post gave it a perfect score!!

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 5.4/10. Voting expressed a love it or hate it pattern.
  • It grossed a whopping $36,000 in the entire United States of America.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoops says, "this is a C-, given that the genre is existential arthouse fare.  I have said C- based upon our unique definition, supported by the fact that many critics praised it. Personally, I hated every second of it, and I expect that about 9,999 people of every 10,000 will agree." Tuna says, "This is an E. I don't see how anyone who is honest with himself can claim to enjoy this film."

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