by Angelo Muredda A Claire Denis film through and through, Bastards is nevertheless a brilliant departure for one of the most distinctive artists in world cinema--an indignant revenge thriller with, of all things, a straightforward plot. Of course, the plot is scrambled, doled out in the runic fragments that have become Denis's stock-in-trade. We open, for instance, in the rain, as a throbbing Tindersticks track underscores a series of beautiful but inscrutable nocturnal images: glimpses of a man forlornly staring out his window, languorous tracking shots of a nude young woman in heels roaming through a deserted street, and finally a tableau of a dead man's body splayed out beneath a fire escape, surrounded by paramedics in the background as a woman, probably his wife, is draped in a tinfoil blanket in the fore. Although films like L'Intrus have primed us to accept such shards as part of an impressionistic array of visual information, adding up to a textured view of nighttime Paris as a hopelessly lonely place, in Bastards the pieces fit together in a precise way we're simply not allowed to know until we've arrived through the movie's own idiosyncratic channel, and at its own deliberate pace. That makes it one of the most elegantly constructed of Denis's eleven features--a grim noir story broken into its component parts, then reassembled into a haunted funhouse image of itself.