Monday, July 5, 2021


Flanders was the second Bruno Dumont film I ever saw. L’Humanite was the first. To this day I still consider L’Humanite to be a modern masterpiece. The perfect balance of soulful boring banality and semi-forced dark quirky weirdness. The problem with that was I expected/wanted every Dumont film going forward to be some variation of that, so I found myself disappointed with Dumont’s post-L’Humanite output between 2002-2009. I was in my 20’s during that period and I didn’t have a full understanding of Dumont’s lane of cinema (Dreyer, Bresson, Akerman, etc). That’s why I did this ‘02-‘09 Bruno Dumont reassessment. Now that I’m a little older I have a better understanding of Flanders and what I think Dumont was trying to do. I still don’t love it, but I appreciate it…

Flanders is Dumont’s version of a Greek tragedy. The basic story plays out like one. A young naive man (“Demester”) goes off to fight in the French military after the love of his life (“Barbe”) cheats on him with another man (“Blondel”). While in the military he experiences the horrors of war and returns to his small French town a tougher more grizzled version of his old self. On the surface it sounds like a pretty classic tale. The war portion of the film is pulled of with excellence. This was Dumont branching off more than ever by crafting full-on war sequences with explosions and fire fights.
The portion of the movie that still doesn’t fully connect with me are the portions of the film that take place in the small town of Flanders. Bruno Dumont does his Bruno Dumont “thing” a bit too much in this one. I appreciate his sense of randomness but it’s turned up quite here. There’s a lot of random moments for the sake of pointless randomness to the point where it kind of takes me out of the story a bit.

This was also the first film where I “got” what he was trying to do casting-wise. Prior to his collaborations with the likes of Juliette Binoche & Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, he was known for working with non-professional actors. But not just any group of non-professional actors… 
There’s no other way to say this but Bruno Dumont went out of his way to cast the most homely, weird-looking locals (I say this knowing I’m no supermodel myself). I guess the better way to say this is he cast people who would be considered traditionally unattractive. I think part of the reason I dislike certain elements of this film (I’ve come to enjoy other potions of it that I once did not) is that it forces me to confront this aspect of his work. As much as I love Dumont overall, I always wonder if he’s being a bit exploitive with his (non-professional) actors sometimes.

Outside of visual similarities and the deadpan delivery of their actors, Bruno Dumont was regularly compared to Robert Bresson because Bresson was also known for using non-professional actors (following his first two films). often times when modern directors cast non-professional actors they go the route of picking “traditionally attractive” people like models and/or random social media influencers (Ana Lily Amirpour) or naturally pretty-looking young people like Gus Van Sant or Larry Clarke. Even Bresson sometimes casted “traditionally” attractive people at times. It’s like Bruno Dumont intentionally went the opposite route of his contemporaries and casted the most unpolished folks he could find.

The actors from Flanders are from the town of Flanders which happens to be where Bruno Dumont is from so there is a personal element to his casting choices...

Flanders is my birthplace. It is visceral, sensitive irrational. I need the land in order to film human beings. In being filmed, Flanders gives back an aspect of human existence. I need a story because stories are the natural movement of our lives, that which connects us to one another - Bruno Dumont

His casting inspirations also came from his appreciation for art. In Dumont’s own words:

the actors were inspired by the tradition of Flemish paintings native to Belgium and northern France - Bruno Dumont

So while there is some obvious provocation in using the actors, there is some respect there. I guess it isn’t totally exploitive.

Odd casting choices aside, Flanders, like Twentynine Palms before it, was another pushback against the constant Bresson comparisons. Outside of the explosive war scenes (which is almost an anti-Bresson thing), Dumont makes nods to everyone from Jean Epstein (his true inspiration) & Carl Theodor Dreyer…

Ordet / Flanders

Le Tempestaire / Flanders

to Tarkovsky…

Andrei Rublev / Flanders

At the end of the day Flanders is the kind of film you check out last in Dumont’s filmography after you’ve got a grasp on his style. In my opinion this is his weakest film but it still deserves to be watched once if you’re a fan of his work or work adjacent to his. 


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