Happy as a Sandbag
Love him or hate him Bruno Dumont is the most provocative and interesting filmmaker currently working in France. Kaleem Aftab meets him
A decade ago when La Vie de Jésus premiered at Cannes French filmmaker Dumont was hailed as the second-coming – the bastard love child of Robert Bresson or Pier Paolo Pasolini. Then the release of his abstract policier Humanity split audiences down the middle. Some thought it was one of the masterpieces of modern cinema, others that it was simply pretentious. Both these films were set in the small town of Bailleul, near Lille, where the 49-year-old director was born and still lives. His third film, Twentynine Palms, was set in America and was widely panned. His latest, Flanders (pictured), is a return to the north of France and a return to form. The very mention of the name Flanders conjures up brutal images of WWII, so it’s unsurprising that Dumont has made a war film. Or is it? The director explains that this is ‘a story of love and all romances contain battles.’ The film follows a group of farmers called up to an unnamed war. They say their goodbyes, and we are shown yet more examples of the perfunctory sex that is the director’s trademark, before they head off to a seemingly meaningless battle (these scenes shot in Tunisia look like they could have taken place in Iraq or Afghanistan).
The director explains that he has always been a fan of war films. ‘I watched a lot of war films on television when I was a child. Above all what I saw was a space where choreography could be used really well. I wanted to create a war where the action on screen could be the most simple that is possible. The war that is on screen is not a real war, but an interior war. I don’t care at all about depicting reality precisely.’
Before establishing his reputation as the enfant terrible of cinema, Dumont was a philosophy lecturer. Talking in a Paris hotel he reflects: ‘The battle between two men over a girl is the same as the fight for two men over a piece of land. It is all about desire. There is no difference between a love triangle and the conflict between Israel and Palestine.’
Dumont makes metaphysical films and doesn’t like to talk about individual characters or motivations. ‘I prefer the audience to decide,’ he declares. ‘When I work I think about the images in the mind of the spectators. If the audience don’t believe in the images then the film will not work in their minds.’
Flanders, Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 3 Aug; GFT, Glasgow from Fri 10 Aug.