Wednesday, September 2, 2015

THE CINEMA OF BRUNO DUMONT TOLD THROUGH IMAGES & STILLS



You can never just enjoy a Bruno Dumont film. There's always some level of struggle or frustration that comes along with the viewing process. I've never heard anyone refer to his movies as "ok" or "pretty good". His stuff is usually considered terrible or masterful. There is no middle ground. You either love Bruno Dumont or you hate him. Even I'm a big fan of his work and there's still a few films that really frustrate the hell out of me (Flanders & Hadewijch).
But that's what I love about him. Bruno Dumont always leaves me feeling intrigued, pleasantly confused & wanting to talk about cinema with my friends (Camille Claudel, 1915, Hors Satan & L'il Quinquin are some of my personal favorites of the decade so far).


While the images in this article certainly represent the cinema of Bruno Dumont, I highly suggest checking out my individual reviews of his films to gain an even better understanding of his work.




THE HOLY SPIRIT
From the titles of his films and how they’re promoted (The Life Of Jesus & Hors Satan) to all the shots of his characters praying on bended knee (Camille Claudel, 1915, Hors Satan Hadewijch) – it’s clear Dumont's relationship with God goes deeper than simple fascination (although Dumont claims to be an atheist, I don't think you can make the kinds of films he does and not have some kind of relationship with God). 
We often see his characters take the form of Jesus on the cross (L'il Quinquin & Hors Satan) or struggle with some kind of torturous relationship with Christianity or Catholicism (Hadewijch & Hors Satan).
Both Camille Claudel's brother and Celine (Hadewijch) truly believe they have a personal relationship with God when in reality they're both a little disturbed.
In Hors Satan we follow a mysterious drifter who takes up residence in a small French town. In the first half of the film he helps out a young girl that's being abused by her father (we never actually see the abuse but we're lead to believe that's what's going on). Later on he heals a young bedridden girl who appears to be possessed (he even starts to gain "disciples" at one point in the film).
Camille Claudel, 1915
Camille Claudel, 1915
Camille Claudel, 1915
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hadewijch
Hors Satan
Life Of Jesus
L'il Quinquin
Lil Quinquin
Slack Bay





LONELINESS, DEPRESSION & DESPAIR
Camille Claudel, 1915 is probably the best example of Dumont’s exploration of depression as the film just oozes with sadness (it's also based on true events). It’s the perfect movie to watch for people who don't get depression or have the wrong idea about what it is (personally, I feel Dumont doesn’t get enough credit for exploring the triggers behind depression). 
But loneliness, isolation & despair are prevalent throughout his entire filmography...
In Humainte our lead character Pharaon struggles with the loss of his wife & daughter. In Flanders Dumont explores the post traumatic stress of war. Our Bonnie & Clyde-like protagonists in The The Twentynine Palms are loyal to each another but at the same time all they do is fight and have aggressive sex which is an indication of some form of unhappiness.
Camille Claudel, 1915
Camille Claudel, 1915
Hadewijch
Hors Satan
Twentynine Palms
Humanite
Humanite
Life Of Jesus





RECURRING SHOT: "DOWN BY THE WATER"
Another example of Dumont’s religious fascination comes in the form of baptism scenes, both literally (Hadewijch & Hors Satan) and metaphorically (Humanite)...
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Humanite
L'il Quinquin
Twentynine Palms
Hadewijch
Slack Bay
Hadewijch
RECURRING SHOT: A WARM EMBRACE
Flanders
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Humanite
Hors Satan
Life Of Jesus
L'il Quinquin
Humanite
Twentynine Palms
Slack Bay
RECURRING SETTING: RURAL FRANCE 
Flanders
Hadewijch
Hors Satan
Humanite
L'il Quinquin
Slack Bay
RECURRING SHOT: THE DUMONT GLARE
Flanders
L'il Quinquin
Camille Claudel, 1915
Hors Satan
Slack Bay

Twentynine Palms
Flanders
Hadewijch
Hors Satan




INFLUENCES & INSPIRATIONS 
I don't know if I'm capable of writing about an early Bruno Dumont film without mentioning Robert Bresson (at one point in his career Dumont was nicknamed “the artistic heir to Bresson”). 
It goes without saying that most filmmakers are influenced by each other, but in the case of modern European arthouse filmmakers like Bertrand Bonello, Eugene Green, Miguel Gomes, Manoel De Oliviero and Bruno Dumont, the Bresson influence is so strong that you have to mention it. The dry tone and cinematography within Camille Claudel & Hors Satan contains shades of L’argent & The Devil Probably (with a touch of Maurice Pialat's Under The Sun Of Satan). The nuns in Hadewijch & Camille Claudel come right out of Diary Of Country Priest.

But legends like Tarkovsky & Dreyer rubbed off on Dumont as well. When reading up on Hors Satan (from blogs to legitimate reviews written by critics I respect) Dreyer's name kept coming up. This makes sense as Hors Satan deals with faith, religion and the presence of God just like Dreyer's work (one key scene in the Hors Satan involves a character being brought back to life after they've been pronounced dead like in Ordet). 

Dumont also branches out to non-cinematic sources for inspiration. The scene of the cow being airlifted at the beginning of L'il Quinquin looks like a Salvador Dali painting come to life while the murder scene from Humainte was clearly influenced by the work of Marcel Duchamps…

Humanite
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
L'il Quinquin
L'il Quinquin
L'Argent/Slack Bay 
Sonatine / L'Humanite
Zabriski Point / Twentynine Palms
Blissfully Yours / Hadweijch
8-1/2 / Slack Bay
Clean, Shaven / L'Humanite
Susanna / Camille Claudel, 1915
Daughters Of The Dust / Slack Bay
The Fall / Li'l Quinquin



JEAN EPSTEIN'S (POSSIBLE) INFLUENCE
While Dumont's work has many similarities to Bresson, I rarely hear folks mention the (possible) influence of Jean Epstein...

The Fall Of The House Of Usher / Flanders
Mauprat / Flanders


the same could be said about Dreyer...


DREYER'S INFLUENCE





RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE/THE NEW FRENCH EXTREMITY
Bruno Dumont was a varsity letterman of the New French Extremity movement during the late 90’s/early 00’s so you can always expect isolated moments of murder & violence.
He also has a fascination with rape and/or rough unsensual sex. Dumont crafts these scenes of men ramming themselves inside of women (almost as if they're stabbing with their penis). In Twentynine Palms we see both main characters attacked & raped by a gang of thugs (preceded by scenes of hard pounding & face fucking between the two lovers in the film). In Humanite not only does the film center around the rape & murder of a young girl, but all the sex scenes are rough and difficult to watch. In The Life Of Jesus a gang of boys sexually assault a young woman and the last third of Hors Satan focuses on the rape & murderer of another young girl.
Hors Satan
L'il Quinquin
Flanders 
Twentynine Palms
Twentynine Palms 
Life Of Jesus
Slack Bay





NON-PROFESSIONAL ACTORS
Bruno Dumont often casts inexperienced actors with some type of physical disability or awkward mannerism/facial "imperfection" that you almost can't help but notice and, depending on how vein you are, possibly snicker at or comment on. Casting homely-looking lead actors is clearly Dumont challenging the viewer's perception of what beauty is on the big screen. 
In Camille Claudel, 1915 Dumont used actors with real physical and/or developmental disabilities.
The female co-lead in Humainte is often referred to as “overweight” and her figure is sometimes talked about more than the actual movie. 
The co-lead in L'il Quinquin has a hair lip and Dumont doesn't shy away from shooting nonstop close-ups of his face. Sure Stacey Keech, Joaquin Phoenix & Michael Kenneth Williams paved the way for mainstream actors with facial disfigurements, but for every one of them there's a hundred Chris Pines, Chris Hemsworths & Paul Walkers (the other co-lead in Quinquin has uncontrollable non-stop facial ticks as well).
L'il Quinquin
L'il Quinquin
Humanite
Humanite
Camille Claudel, 1915
Flanders
Hors Satan
Twentynine Palms




SEX & THE NAKED BODY
No one is ever really naked for the sake of being naked in his movies (there’s a nude in scene in Hadewijch that might be the one exception). When someone is nude in the world of Bruno Dumont its because they’re about to have sex or they just finished having sex (Twentynine Palms, Hors Satan, The Life Of Jesus, Humanite or Flanders). 
When his camera focuses on a man’s lower body, it’s not to show us his well maintained physique, but to indicate that his female character is looking directly at his bulge (Humanite). 
Dumont almost always casts these R. Crumb physiqued women (Flanders, Humanite & L’il Quinquin) so he can highlight the large natural breasts, butts & hips.
And again – there’s almost never anything sensual or erotic about the sex in his movies. It’s usually rough (Humanite), incredibly rough (Twentynine Palms) or ridiculously rough to point where I have to look away in disgust (Hors Satan).
Life Of Jesus
Humanite
Humanite
Humanite
Twentynine Palms
Twentynine Palms
Flanders
Hors Satan




YOUTH
Young people in Bruno Dumont’s films often find themselves in over their heads. I wouldn’t say he portrays children in the most realistic way (they are sort of caricatures on some level) but he doesn’t rely on their “cuteness” in the way so many other filmmakers do (he isn't afraid to place kids in dangerous & uncomfortable situations). With Hadewijch we see a young character taking on religious responsibilities that so-called god-fearing church-going folks wouldn't want. The kids in L’il Quinquin don’t seem to be scared that a serial killer is on the loose but rather curious. The youngsters in Life Of Jesus seem to be jaded yet they’re so inexperienced and have yet to really do anything important with their lives.
L'il Quinquin
Hors Satan
Hors Satan
Hadewijch
Life Of Jesus




SURREALITY 
Putting aside all the dry Bresson-esque ambiance, Bruno Dumont’s movies are downright weird at times. That’s a major part of what makes his movies so unique. In the world of Bruno Dumont his characters can levitate (Humanite) and stick to walls (L’il Quinquin). In Hors Satan, some of the women in the village are plagued with an unexplained illness and require exorcisms. And often times, his characters spurt out random lines of dialogue that have nothing to do with the anything…
Hors Satan
Humanite
Lil Quinquin
Lil Quinquin
Slack Bay





STEPPING OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
Although films like Humanite, Flanders & Hors Satan truly define the cinema of Bruno Dumont, he’s still not afraid to step outside of that Bresson-influenced comfort zone of religious symbolism, non-professional actors & monotone/deadpan dialogue. In films like Camille Claudel, 1915 & Twentynine Palms he collaborated with professional/established actors like Juliette Binoche & Katerina Golubeva.
And most recently he branched off in to the (dark) comedy genre for the first time with L'il Quinquin where for the first time it was ok to laugh at the people in his movies…
Twentynine Palms
Camille Claudel, 1915
Lil Quinquin

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