B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
The city of Twentynine Palms, California provides the unique setting (rendered in gorgeous Cinemascope) for this controversial look at the romantic and sexual life of a young couple in love. A photographer (David Wissak) and his girlfriend (Katia Golubeva) leave Los Angeles to find a desert setting for a magazine photo shoot. Their trip through Joshua Tree is filled with bouts of frantic sex, impassioned fights, and hasty reconciliations, until an act of desperation leads to an unforeseen and brutal climax. Directed by Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus and Humanité).
  Work Notes for Twentynine Palms

"In the beginning the whole earth was America."
–John Locke, 1632-1704

Subject doesn't matter, only appearance and atmosphere. Twentynine Palms is an experimental horror film: the sensation of nothingness carried by a tenuous story of two Americans, a wild love suddenly turned upside-down. Death.


I'm seeking not the motif, but the means to execute the film.

Find rhythm, order, and clarity, patiently. Neutralize details, dialogue, light. Destroy beauty and goodness, start over. Make a new film, like creating a new world. The basic production is the expression, the source of life.


Invisible, inaudible strength. Let the film emerge. Think only of how to produce it; work by instinct. Write the script. Shoot.

The story is as much about the emptiness of solitary existence, as it is about the endless strength of passion between two people. Emptiness and strength in the staggering flow of time (measured by the motion of the car), in the immense, almost mystical spaces (desert and motel).

Time and space are strong presences, as the protagonists of the dominant American culture return to nature for a few days (nudity, primitive sex, inaction, rape) and die. These masses create the disconnected atmosphere surrounding the characters, and define their existence.

Sexuality is kept at a distance for the comfort of the audience.

The characters often glance far off-camera in fear.


This is an experiment, something like sketches for a painting, an attempt, by playing down the subject and characters, to show what lies beneath.

In Twentynine Palms, simple forms become hallucinatory, descending to horror and a psychedelic state.

I conceived my idea for the film in October 1999, when I discovered California's Joshua Tree desert. A second car trip in the summer of 2000 led me to write the script. The trip made a stunning impression on me and inspired new cinematographic approaches: the revelation of psychedelic forms, a waking dream induced by the cinematic experience.


Cinematography is a sensational form of expression and hallucinatory impressions.


With its thorny trees and rocky soil, the Joshua Tree desert is unlike any other. It reshapes the experience of infinite, poetic vastness in contrast to the cramped human condition. Mystical interlude, desert as illusion, test of self in the stagnant desolation of space-time.

Joshua Tree's expressive metaphysical space acts forcefully on our senses. This fantastical set is subjected to the scrutiny and response of the characters, confines and reiterates their insignificant emotions.

Endless motion through the inert stony expanse, the haunting rhythm of the car–against the idleness of the characters, the vagaries of their morals, the emergence of a shapeless fear.

Twentynine Palms will be an ecstatic, hallucinogenic cinematic voyage, a return to primitive, violent nature, stagnation, and raw silence.

A primitive love story, real, naked. Passion moves from the sex act through jealousy to blows and blood.

The story is a psychedelic composition, mirroring contemporary culture, a search for lost meaning.


Two diminished, incomplete characters allow us to see the depth of the lost foundation: infinite Nature that imprisons them. They emerge from it and constantly smash themselves against it.

We can't make an abstraction of space, we can only strip it bare. Seeing is the basis of awareness.


Natural light, neutralized. The camera sees as the human eye does. Reality is unchanged, except for the long views of the nude scenes. This discreet distancing is a change in the representation of the space.

Light is a strong element in portraying reality. Light knows nothing, says nothing. It simply exists so that the spectator can see the story.

Twentynine Palms' atmosphere is composed of musical, psychedelic sound depicting the hallucinatory inactivity of the story. The sound and space are repetitive. Sound and mixing are seen as musical components: rhythm, harmony, melody. Sounds emphasized by frequent silences. Their meaning exists in relation to the other elements.

The sound knows what's happening and tells us. The atmosphere is taut.


Twentynine Palms is a suspense/horror film, a confused, mystical tangle: stretched time, absence of dialogue, silence, the supremacy of what is off-camera, clarity of sound. Mystery, nothingness, the fantastic.

Have no fear, trust in the preparation that has become the subconscious of the film. Work without reflection; creation comes not from pure thought, but from rediscovered instinct.

Prepare mentally, shoot viscerally. Be spontaneous, improvise.

The revelation of the background is never a result of removing the characters, it always proceeds from the internal design of the film. The dominance of the background is contained within the framework of the story.

The author must be impartial.

–January 2002

Twentynine Palms reconstructs the films of the American cinema seen in France since one's childhood. A radical reduction of images and sounds, Twentynine Palms plumbs the depths of one vision.

–February 2004

(Translated from the French by Joann Mitchell)


©2004 Landmark Theatres