Monday, July 12, 2021


One positive thing to come out of last year’s quarantine was being stuck inside and having time to reassess certain specific movies. I’m a Bruno Dumont guy (now more than ever after reading more about him), but the period between 2002-2009 (Twentynine Palms through Hadewijch) is a period in his filmography I hadn’t revisited due to the fact that I wasn’t a fan of that particular run. But sometimes tastes & opinions change (especially after gaining a better of understanding of the filmmaker’s background).
Twentynine Palms is a fascinating movie because it was made by someone (Dumont) that was sick & tired of being compared to someone else (Bresson). Dumont’s previous two films were compared to the work of Robert Bresson so much that he was once dubbed: “the son of Bresson” and “the rightful heir to Bresson”. Some filmmakers like that of Tarantino or Jarmusch don’t mind the association with filmmakers that came before them. Dumont represents that brand of filmmaker who, while so obviously influenced by those who came before them, still wants to stand on their own two feet.

It got to a point where Dumont intentionally made cynical & dismissive comments about being compared to Bresson in interviews…

H2N: In watching Hadewijch, I was immediately brought to Robert Bresson—

Bruno Dumont: Who? Luc Besson? [laughs]

All this business of homage & influence reminds me of a quote from Hal Hartley (another filmmaker often associated with Bresson and was once dubbed the “Jean Luc Godard of Long Island"). 
After years of being mentioned in the same sentence as Jim Jarmusch he once said:

Being mentioned in the same breath as Jim Jarmusch was kind of swell. I always thought god he must be so embarrassed to have to now tug not only the weight of his own reputation of work but of other people - Hal Hartley

This quote applies to Dumont in more ways than one. Not only was his work constantly associated with Robert Bresson (and still is), but he was also made in to a supporting player in the New French Extremity movement which was a film scene crafted by critics that grouped together a lot of filmmakers who had nothing to do with each other and were now suddenly put in to a clique.

With all that being said, Dumont’s third feature (and first kind of English speaking film) ended up being a direct homage to Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point with a climax right out of Deliverance. The film centers around an intentionally insufferable couple ("Katia" & "David") who’s relationship is put to the ultimate test on a semi-aimless road trip through the west coast. An interesting plot-point to the story is that the native Russian Katia doesn’t speak English while the American David doesn’t speak Russian. So as a compromise they both speak somewhat broken French to one another which only adds to the tension & miscommunication in their relationship. I don't know if this was done on purpose but it seems like Dumont was addressing the idea of miscommunication in relationships.

Outside of the basic plot and desert setting, Dumont crafts scenes to look exactly like Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point /
Twentynine Palms

And he’s quite open with his connection to the work of Antonioni (more than Bresson)…

Cinema is an art that comes with big history. I have learned and been influenced by Fellini, Antonioni and a lot of Italian masters. When you are young you want to copy and imitate - Bruno Dumont

He also acknowledges the Deliverance influence (it's too obvious not to)…

The moment of the film that received the most notice is the DELIVERANCE scene where the couple is set upon by a group of rednecks - Bruno Dumont

Deliverance / Twentynine Palms

So it’s not like he’s above admitting influence. Maybe he was just sick of being compared to Bresson exclusively…

my approach to filmmaking is the exact opposite of Bresson’s way of working. For example, the way I work with actors is completely different; I use location sound where Bresson looped everything. It’s quite strange to me to see critics and spectators constantly taking out their Bressonian toolkits to decode my films. It’s something I can’t control; I can’t stop people from doing that. I only discovered Bresson late in my life and I really don’t care about him that much - Bruno Dumont

Twentynine Palms sticks out the most within Dumont’s filmography (it’s the most “explosive” and violent) but that’s probably because he was still figuring himself out while dealing with the burden of being the (so-called) “heir” to Bresson (something he clearly didn’t want). 
I’m not sure where it “ranks” among his other work (the acting is still just as awkward/bad as I remembered it) but it’s an interesting film to come back to and revisit once you gain a better understanding of his style and where he was mentally at that point in his career.


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