Cinema of Bruno Dumont, the French landscape
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Categories: French cinematography
Bruno Dumont arrived at the Directors’ Fortnight in the play-off, after his absence was one of the most famous after the announcement of the candidates for the largest annual film competition and portrait of the state of world cinephilia. The Frenchman thus returns to the Croisette just a year after the recently released in our cinemas ‘La alta sociedad’ (‘Ma Loute’) competed for the Palme d’Or, and again promises his signature stamp, although in this occasion double the bet. The director of the revealing ‘La Vie de Jesus’, returns us to the arid lands of the northern Gallic where he seems to feel at home, in his portrait of people as peculiar as his own sense of humor, and brings us closer in a free reinterpretation and musical (!) to the childhood of a young Joan of Arc. Waiting for the arrival of ‘Jeannette, l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc’ in theaters, we review some of the features that characterize the filmography of the French filmmaker.

Filmmaker of the border: of inhospitable landscapes

Borders are always strange territories where its inhabitants coexist with neighbors on horseback between their legal identity and their tradition, which does not understand the limits drawn by the squad. Perhaps that is why the director of such outstanding works as the initiatory ‘La Vie de Jesus’, ‘Flandres’ or his recent foray into the ‘P’tit Quinquin’ mini-series format, is so interested in the profile of these border faces, of which the French filmmaker stands out as the leading champion and prominent portrait painter. Nord Pas de Calais, -whose major cities (Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing) are located in a strange Franco-Flemish territory where although French, the culture of the neighboring country is not foreign-, it is irrevocable setting for most of his works collection. As a curiosity, it is also for ‘Les Fantomes d’Ismael’, which this year opened the French competition in which Dumont presents his new film, and where Mathieu Amalric plays a director who, like that of the film itself, Arnaud Desplechin, comes from Roubaix. In a rural area halfway between inland farms, a non-tourist and somewhat fishing shoreline, and arid terrains not fully exploited for agriculture, Bruno Dumont films in open static shots of large overexposed skies, turning the landscape from predominant outdoors in a perfect setting for the France of Le Pen. It is in this territorial mix of places and people where the French landscaper places his artistic hybridization, a stark and desaturated color cinema, a mixture of crude drama and comedy of ridicule, crime and brutal passion, exposed in the most pictorial way while openly heartbreaking and with an inescapable touch of bitterly ironic humor.

Stories of violence, cruelty and submission

In this hostile terrain, the cradle of his childhood, Bruno Dumont places his dysfunctional rural families amidst the harshness of stories of extreme violence. Although with a peculiar humorous touch, his are stories of murders and crimes at the slow pace of the countryside, stories of wild passion and submission, of obsession and cruelty without hindrance and almost of childish innocence, bordering on the limits of the human. It is not surprising that childhood is one of the objects of study of the former professor of philosophy, presented in his films as that stage where the social conventions and stupidity of adulthood are far from the natural, spontaneous and unrestrained rudeness of those savage children, led by the adolescent cruelty of ‘La Vie de Jesus’, most recently embodied in the “p’tit” Quinquin and his friends. Indeed, the cruelty in Dumont’s characters is presented as an intrinsic condition in people who, either out of submission to the environment, out of ignorance or out of a question of social determinism, act in a starkly raw and heartbreaking way, as if ignorance of the world outside his borders he would have captured them for life at that early age. Based on behavioral patterns guided by brutality, the filmmaker’s characters coexist in claustrophobic environments of hyper-realistic landscapes in the purest style of the late nineteenth century, in a universe paradoxically based on open spaces, but which contain large doses of oppression, from the first to the last of his works. Thus, social pressure in ‘La Vie de Jesus’, ‘Flandres’ or ‘Ma Loute’, to name just a few examples, lead to submission, be it racial, sexual, gender or class, in any of its forms violence, both physical and emotional. A contingency that, as is usual, the characters in the most vulnerable position suffer as opposed to the claim of the one who submits them and that, frequently in Dumont’s cinema, is within the couple. Here, violence is not always expressed in the form of a coup, but rather in silence and through a sensitive affective absence, which once again manifests human relations in a crude and discouraging way. Although in most cases consensual, brutal and emotionally detached sex, physically crystallizes this form of emotional violence that dominates the Dumont moors and that almost always ends with female submission, before their own indifference.

The normality of the grotesque

Thus, always bathed in that state of oppressive violence that reigns threatening in all their environments, from those located purely in that rural world of ‘La Vie de Jesus’, ‘L’Humanite’, ‘Flandres’ or ‘P’tit Quinquin’ Even the furthest from him, such as the one portrayed in ‘Twentynine Palms’ or ‘Camille Claudel 1915’ - perhaps one of the most claustrophobic in his filmography - Dumont explores other themes that are a constant in a universe of stories that exude pathos and stridency, although most of the times guided by problems of expression and lack of communication. In this context, the difficulty in discerning between good and evil exonerates to a certain extent the brutality of acts that are given by anti-referents that are both cause and consequence of the violence in which their lives are mired. Therefore, it is not surprising that religion is another of the themes that concern the filmmaker and, to a greater or lesser extent, is recurring in all his films streaming. Devotion as a guide in the search for good works - such as that professed by the outlandish character of Juliette Binoche in ‘Ma Loute’ or in the form of a procession in full pathetic fervor in many other works, of which this one or ‘P ‘Tit Quintin’ are a good example.