Tribute to Bruno Dumont
Complete list of the films by Bruno Dumont in "Tribute to..." Programme for 2010 you can find here!
Several years ago a few critics attempted to lump the films of Bruno Dumont with those of other gallic directors under the banner “the New French Extremism.” What were the common denominators? Graphic sex, discomforting acts of violence, and an infusion of scatological detail. True, Dumont does not shy away from any of these. Their inclusion (or exclusion) in his films is never gratuitous: They are just a part of the director’s master plan. And that is the meticulous charting of one or two characters’ interior journeys. Dumont was a professor of philosophy, and the precision of thought that field requires is evident in every frame of his films, in subject matter as well as in form. If we really need to label his oeuvre, perhaps “the New Deliberateness” would suffice.
The starting point of the voyage is frequently mindless, occasionally primal, such as pro forma intercourse or goalless motorbike riding. Along the way Dumont captures details of the everyday. These may be in scenes depicting an ennui that most filmmakers avoid from fear of losing the spectator (and the financier). He finds drama where others fear to tread. Characters may stand around with nothing to do or pray incessantly. Dumont refused to cut away just to relieve the monotony.
The purveyors of these acts are usually simple working-class folk, sometimes impoverished Arab immigrants. They are almost always played by nonprofessionals with unforgettable faces and figures: real people, far from the conventions of mainstream stardom. Being attractive is beside the point. We follow their convoluted paths, which frequently lead to epiphanies like the acknowledgement of one’s emotional life, or the outward expression of affection.
The canvas for most of Dumont’s features is northern France, where he was born and still resides. The provincial settings are blue-gray, literally and figuratively. If characters are even employed, they labor at unenviable jobs: in factories, on farms, at supermarket cash registers. Starkly beautiful if somewhat unenticing, the rural and small-town backdrops offer little distraction for those on the screen and for those peering at it. They are perfect for methodically tracking the evolution of his mutable protagonists.
If violence is part of the path, and it is dramatically appropriate, Dumont shows it, whether it’s the vagina of a murdered 11-year-old girl or the dismembered body of a friendly soldier. If sex is on the agenda, he does not turn his camera away, whether it be from penetration during lovemaking or homosexual rape.
Dumont is an outstanding visualist. He works mostly in long shots, providing context, and extreme close-ups, foregrounding odd peculiarities. There are lengthy scenes without dialog, and soundtrack music is sparse. Sometimes we hear it in conjunction with a performance within the film. The source may be a marching band, a quintet’s rehearsal in a church, or a ridiculous hip band playing for even more absurd dancing spectators on the banks of the Seine.
His films’ titles tell us a lot about his priorities. The Life of Jesus is about an epileptic layabout named…Freddy. Humanity focuses on a small-town cop who appears slightly damaged. Hadewijch, the story of a young Parisian woman who eschews flesh-and-blood men in favor of Christ, was a 13th-century Flemish poet who equated God with love. No one working in film today synthesizes the earthy, the carnal, with the spiritual as seamlessly as Dumont, an avowed atheist. He is more akin to Robert Bresson and Roberto Rossellini than to any of his contemporaries.
Included in this retrospective is Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), a series of tableaux in which St. Francis of Assisi and his followers give selflessly to others. The mood of the film is lighthearted, even humorous. Dumont says that this movie was an influence on Hadewijch, which on the surface is serious in tone. In reality, he is amused by the foibles of his characters as he bestows grace upon them. Dumont is a human full of love for other humans (in spite of some critical accusations of misanthropy), no matter how severe their flaws. It’s as if he takes a cue from the Book of Matthew: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”
By Howard Feinstein, selector
In the scope of the Tribute to Programme, Bruno Dumont will meet Sarajevo Film Festival guests and audience during regular Q&A sessions following the screenings.
In previous years, Sarajevo Film Festival has hosted and presented retrospectives of authors whose uncompromising creative outlooks brought down many taboos in film and society alike, and attracted great attention of both the audiences and the media.
Guests of the Sarajevo Film Festival Tribute to Programme in previous years were:
• Steve Buscemi 2000
• Mike Leigh 2001
• Stephen Frears 2002
• Peter Mullan 2003
• Dušan Makavejev and Gaspar Noe 2004
• Alexander Payne 2005
• Abel Ferrara and Béla Tarr 2006
• Ulrich Seidl 2007
• Todd Haynes 2008
• Jia Zhang-ke 2009