A twisted, frequently trying examination of sex, violence and the banal desolation of the expansive American West, Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms traverses ground already covered by his superior The Life of Jesus and Humanite. American photographer David (David Wissak) and his Russian, French-speaking girlfriend Katia (Katia Golubeva) take to the Joshua Tree National Park to scout locations for a photo shoot, and wind up wandering around the bleak, barren landscape like a modern-day Adam and Eve desperate for emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Frequently naked underneath the scorching sun, doing little more than aimlessly wander, mechanically screw, and fail to successfully communicate with each, David and Katia are hopelessly isolated from themselves and each other, and Dumont captures menace in long silences and empty spaces by shooting his contentious protagonists with chilly aloofness. Until its climactic paroxysm of bloodshed exposes the frighteningly unavoidable link between sex and violence, Twentynine Palms (despite endless shots of David and Katia driving around deserted highways) is dramatically languorous to the point of stasis, and its leads’ performances are so stilted and mannered as to be laughable (apparently one of many responses garnered by the film during its initial festival screenings). Yet the primary shortcoming of Dumont’s rigorously ascetic film is its emotional remoteness. The director conducts his treatise on man’s inherent bestiality with such self-conscious impassivity that one fails to engage – via compassion, anger or disgust – with the story’s central couple, leaving the film fascinating in the abstract but wearisome in reality.