Bruno Dumont

Bruno Dumont

Dumont’s is a physical cinema, a corporeal one populated with unpleasant, unapologetic characters; in many cases, they are portrayed with the aid of close-ups, long shots, protracted silences; in others, they are contained against vast backdrops and arid landscapes, underscoring their fragility, their finiteness. It is also an emotionally extreme form of filmmaking in which the director proposes a new, visually weighted narrative where the characters form part of the panorama or are “something” that makes sense only when captured in action by the camera. The problem for some—and the appeal for others—is that his films depict reality as is, without artifice or guise; a world much closer to the real one in which his characters do not hide their dark side, their fears, their shortcomings. But above all, his are complex individuals, sometimes too complex; tortured, desolate beings without any hope of redemption.

Perhaps because of his background in philosophy, Dumont asks more questions than he gives answers, waxes more pessimistic than optimistic, chooses sadness and desolation over happiness. Despair could well be deemed the leitmotif of his motion pictures, which seem to repeat inexorably that man is condemned to himself with no possibility of escape. Maybe this is why his are sad, malcontent beings that laugh little or not at all; why his films are plagued with silences that smother deafening cries: Save me, God! Save me, love! Save me, sex! Only to meet with Satan, alienation and loneliness over and over again.

At the heart of it all is a metaphysics of sorts that looks to philosophy and sociology in an effort to understand what defines us as human beings, whether or not we like what we see, even if it leaves us vulnerable or forces us to acknowledge our most primal nature: sex as an animal instinct, impulse as a life force, violence and more violence… Perhaps it’s like a character from Hadewijch says: violence is in us all. More so in men than in women? That question would seem to be implicit in a body of work that began with male characters (The Life of Jesus, Humanity), but that gradually began sharing the spotlight with female ones (Flanders, Hors Satan) or ceding it to them entirely (29 Palms, Hadewijch, Camille Claudel, Jeannette). But whereas Dumont portrays his female characters battling their own demons, his male ones tend to express their frustrations and fears in outbreaks of violence.

Some find his films realistic, others depressing, but after seven and just when we all thought we knew what to expect, we got to see his wit and sense of humor bloom in L’il Quinquin and Ma Loute. But we’re talking about Dumont, so obviously there’s a “catch”. And if we scratch the surface of these characters that verge on caricature, we inevitably come face-to-face with the same questions, the same existential angst, the same wolf, but all the more dangerous because this time it’s dressed in sheep’s clothing. No matter how they come wrapped, no matter the what or how, Dumont’s motion pictures are essentially the mood transmitted by his naked, arid landscapes and the ordinary, rough-edged human beings who inhabit them, whether heroes or villains, kind or cruel…

There are those who claim he has been influenced by Bresson, Passolini, Bergman, Kiarostami, while others credit him with reinventing or breaking with the French tradition, both aesthetic and moral, by questioning spirituality and, ultimately, that which makes us human. Yet more have tried to find common ground between Dumont and his predecessors, just as many more will try and connect him with those who follow in his footsteps. That’s what happens when you’re not afraid to go out on a limb.