The Films of Bruno Dumont
The Life of Jesus (June 19/16)
Bruno Dumont's directorial debut, The Life of Jesus follows David Douche's Freddy, an unemployed young man living in the North of France, as he spends his days tooling around town on his motorcycle and hanging out with his patient girlfriend (Marjorie Cottreel's Marie) - with the narrative, what little there is, eventually detailing Freddy's attempts at tracking down the man (Kader Chaatouf's Kader) who propositioned Marie. Dumont, who also wrote the movie's screenplay, has infused The Life of Jesus with an exceedingly, often excessively deliberate pace that emphasizes the central character's aimless existence, as large swaths of the proceedings revolve around Freddy's day-to-day exploits alongside his equally unambitious friends - which paves the way for a uneventful midsection that's evocative, certainly, yet rarely engrossing. It's clear, then, that the movie's ability to (partially) sustain the viewer's interest is due mostly to the admittedly solid visuals and stirring central performance, with, in terms of the latter, Douche's striking turn as the disaffected protagonist paving the way for an authentic (and gritty) character-study sort of vibe. The rather inevitable bent of the film's third act dulls the impact of its climactic happenings, to be sure, and it's ultimately obvious that The Life of Jesus never quite becomes the searing drama that Dumont has intended - and yet it's equally apparent that the filmmaker does a consistently impressive job of digging deep into the low-key existence of its less-than-energetic central character.
A seriously padded-out, self-indulgent work, L'humanité details the less-than-exciting day-to-day happenings in the life of a depressive police inspector named Pharaon De Winter (Emmanuel Schotté) - with the character's uneventful existence taking a grisly turn after a young girl in his district is brutally raped and murdered. It's clear immediately that Dumont isn't looking to offer up a typical police procedural here, as L'humanité spends very little time on the aforementioned crime and instead devotes much of its energies to the character-study antics of its central protagonist. (Pharaon doesn't begin looking into the crime until the 48 minute mark!) The movie is, then, concerned primarily with the less-than-eventful occurrences that make up Pharaon's subdued reality, with, for example, the opening half hour following the character as he rides his bike around town, works on his garden, watches his friends have sex (!), etc, etc. Dumont's methodical approach ensures that the movie's 148 minutes (!!) pass by as slowly as one could possibly envision or imagine, and yet it's clear that L'humanité, astonishingly enough, never quite becomes the flat-out endurance test one might've naturally expected - with Dumont's steady directorial hand and Schotté's memorable performance playing a significant role in staving off total boredom. There's nevertheless little doubt that the movie is much, much longer than it has any right to be, and Dumont occasionally seems to be going out of his way to pepper (and elongate) the proceedings with sequences of a palpably needless variety. (What are we to make, for example, of the continuing emphasis on the strike by several labor workers?) The eventual reveal of the aforementioned crime's culprit almost feels like an afterthought, which isn't surprising, certainly, given the low-key, almost random nature of everything that came before - thus confirming L'humanité's status as a somewhat watchabe yet mostly confounding art-house drama.
Camille Claudel 1915