‘There were boos at Cannes when Bruno Dumont’s L’humanité (1999) won three major awards. Boos perhaps because he’s self-taught, an unusual filmmaker working outside the main tradition of the French film industry, and a creator of such extraordinarily fresh work that he polarizes opinion moreso than Mr. Stone-in-the-shoe himself — Lars von Trier. Instead, Dumont — unhappy with modern art cinema (“it’s lost touch with life”) — wants his cinema to “return man to the body, to the heart, to truth”. I greatly admire his clean, organic approach and find his films intoxicating, indeed, utterly essential.
‘If you gravitate towards cinema that is more than just fickle entertainment (a rare pastime today, I know) then the haloed procession of poet filmmakers over the last century will probably have caught your interest. For me, Bruno Dumont’s cinema is refreshingly devoid of the aristocratic notions and self-referential winking that can sometimes asphyxiate modern art cinema. Dumont refuses to let meaning be obfuscated by these unfortunate traits – traits which have ghettoized modern art films to the fringes of cultural discourse. His films aren’t made as traditional entertainment nor do they exist to make money (something that must seem incomprehensible to most American filmmakers and audiences) — but how refreshing they are!
‘Bruno Dumont spent his twenties and most of his thirties working two jobs (teaching philosophy and making commercial films for local businesses) after being refused a place at the top film schools in France. His first film was for a bank surveillance company. Subsequent films dealt with heavy industry, machines in action and manufacturing procedures — basically from-a-raw-material-to-a-finished-product type films. He described the process in a 1999 interview, “I had the camera go inside the chocolate machine, which brought me one of my first emotions through film. It was beautiful to see chocolate fall down and I managed to amplify this and create emotion. People were touched to see the candy, and after that I was always trying, always searching for the emotion. I was only shooting the machines, but I was looking for the emotion in the machines.”
‘For fifteen years he shot candy manufacturing films, the building of a highway, a real estate attorney’s congress, and other seemingly banal projects. Dumont described how, looking back on this, everything he was filming, no matter how dull, became interesting, “I learnt how to make uninteresting things interesting. The way I work today is completely linked to those ten years of filming nothing.”‘ — Nick Wrigley, MoC, 2003
‘Dumont is that French director your friends have warned you about. His characters pontificate about God, death, and evil between being violated and subjugated. He shoots through a lens filter called “abject Gallic misery.” Christ-figures abound and they’re mortified enough for three crucifixions. He’s been mixing Tod Browning, Catherine Breillat and Carl th. Dreyer for over fifteen years and until recently he had but two settings: beautifully troubling and unbearably bleak. It seems however, he’s emptied the suggestion box and realized that perhaps he’d gone as far as his obsessions could carry him in his chosen mode. Maybe seven films without a single laugh was a little much? Well, fear Dumont’s unsettling vision of humanity no more: he’s trawled through his back catalogue (which includes the punishing Twentynine Palms, the transcendent Hadewijch, and the abstruse Hors Satan) and, for his eighth and most recent film, put together a hilarious remix of his greatest hits in the form of a joyfully bizarre 3-hour miniseries. Saying P’tit Quinquin is Dumont’s funniest and warmest film doesn’t count for much, but could I interest you in one of the sharpest autocritiques in recent memory? Dumont’s real trick isn’t spinning his iconic imagery for laughs, but doing so without straying from his usual mission of investigating the extent to which humans can possibly be modeled after God in the most violent imaginable terms.
‘Dumont will next helm Ma Loute, a burlesque period comedy in the vein of Li’l Quinquin co-starring Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. Set at the beginning of the 20th century, in a seaside village of the North of France, the film will center around the forbidden romance between Maloute and Billie who belong to two family clans who hate each other. On one hand, there are The Belforts, modest fishermen and cannibals, and on the other, the Van Peteghems, upper-class bourgeois known for being consanguineous and crazy thieves. Embroiled in raft of mysterious disappearances, the families are being investigated by two cops.’ — collaged
Bruno Dumont Official Website
Bruno Dumont @ IMDb
Bruno Dumont @ france culture
Bruno Dumont @ mubi
‘Bruno Dumont’s Bodies’
‘The man with two brains’
‘Films Through The Window: The Cinema Of Bruno Dumont’
‘Bruno Dumont : “Dans ‘P’tit Quinquin’, il y a tout, la déconnade et les larmes”’
‘Chiaroscuro levels of thought.’
‘Vies et passions de Bruno Dumont, cinéaste radical’
‘Dead Meat: Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin’
‘Sculpture, Bruno DUMONT, 1996’
‘HOPE LIES AT 24 FRAMES PER SECOND: Bruno Dumont’
Bruno Dumont interviewed re: ‘Hors Satan’
‘Bruno Dumont Reveals His Sense of Humor’, by Steevee
Podcast: ‘Bruno Dumont and The New French Mistake’
Video: ‘Coffret Bruno Dumont’
‘The New American Old West: Bruno Dumont’s Twentynine Palms’
‘Bruno Dumont, cinéaste de la transcendance’
Interview with Bruno Dumont (2006, English subtitles)
Entretien avec Bruno Dumont (2014)
Entretien avec Bruno Dumont (2011)
MASTERCLASS avec Bruno Dumont
[Festival de Cannes : Bruno Dumont : grand prix du jury]
Why do you make films?
BRUNO DUMONT: That’s a very simple and a very difficult question. There is a desire expressed through cinema and its methods to search and to find what’s inside of others. I would like to express my own views on the mysteries of life.
Degas has said that art is false, and one can only approach the truth through falsity. Do you think that the cinema, because it is a false medium, is best able in art to capture something like the truth?
BD: Yes, I think that all art is false. And that with art in general–talking about life in false ways–can you attain truth. Because the truth can only be expressed through lies and falseness. And those who film truth directly, in your face like seen on television, tell us nothing. Thus the work of the artist is to reveal the truth through his work. When Picasso and Braque invented Cubism, the representation was false in comparison to reality; but it was the reality of truth that they were expressing. An artist must modify reality. It is only through modification that the truth can be expressed. That’s what Degas meant when he said that art was false.
But why do you choose cinema in particular?
BD: I could have easily used painting or literature to express myself, but I think that cinema itself has the capacity to express what is invisible–and this interests me. And, also, cinema is an art of time, of the temporal. Within the perception of existence, time is the most important material of life. Therefore, cinema has a natural capacity to talk about life.
How much does it also have to do with movement as opposed to time?
BD: The movement inside of the frame, the length of the take is the art of organization, everything is time. When I shoot a take from beginning to end, this is time. The actor who moves; this is time. Therefore, all of cinema is time. The art of mise-en-scene is organizing time. The time of the actor, the time of the action, the time of waiting.
You’ve said that very few filmmakers make real cinema. What’s your definition of real cinema?
BD: It’s understanding that what cinema is — is its methods, its artistry, its possibilities. It’s not like all art. It’s understanding what art can be and do. It’s fundamentally a way of expressing oneself. It’s expressing what lies deep within our heart. At the same time, there is a lot of mystery–even in the films that I make. I think the cinema is about mystery. Most of all a spiritual mystery. That’s the most secretive, enigmatic, and foreign. Art is made up of the spiritual.
Are you a believer?
BD: No. If it’s not in man, alone, unsubmissive.
I think connected to the rapture and ecstasy of mystical experiences is the idea of renunciation and abstinence, which is the engine or tool for such an experience. Do you find that by subtracting things from your cinema you are in fact approaching that state?
BD: Yes, absolutely, there’s a connection—and there’s a moral aspect to directing. I’m searching for approaches to filmmaking that have moralistic elements to them and that comprise rules. I impose rules. For example, on the actress [Julie Sokolowski], I forbade her to eat or sleep before shooting. In the same way, I chose an aspect ratio of 1:66 that was very constricting for me, limiting the frame to exactly what’s essential. Also, I shot the film using mono sound. So these constraints that I impose on myself also impose certain choices and force us to limit ourselves. It’s true there’s a process of taking away and purifying or paring down to what’s essential. I make films with very little money, but surprisingly enough it’s not a problem. On the contrary, it’s very helpful to what I’m doing. It’s extraordinary to make a film about religious faith with an actress who has absolutely no belief in God whatsoever. But these contradictions force us to work harder. Surprisingly, I found that the more paradoxical things were, the better the film works. It’s something I don’t understand—and that I find very disturbing.
How do you position yourself in relation to an audience?
BD: My position is very paradoxical. When I’m making a film, I’m not concerned with how a spectator will respond. I’m not working to make the films accessible, but at the same time, I have a great deal of respect for the audience because I’m aware that it’s through their gaze that my film will be completed. I realize I’m an individual just like any other member of the audience, and I think if there is a dignity to cinema, it lies in the audience who receives the film and completes it.
Bruno Dumont’s 10 films
Vie de Jesus (1997)
‘In La vie de Jésus, Dumont represents the youth of today as decaying — lost and despairing — yet he’s aware that they hold the future in their hands. He wants to combat their despair, to make them understand that they are capable of inventing their own future, “What’s important is the person who watches it. He continues to live,” — Dumont said at the film’s release — “perhaps in this darkness he will see the glimmer, but I stopped, finally at the moment when the glimmer appears. I’m not a prophet, it is not for me to say anything, it is for people to do something.”‘ — MoC
‘L’humanité is a film that people either seem to be locked into from the start or they just can’t abide. At the time of L’humanité’s release, Sight & Sound magazine in the UK ran a feature article with an opposing rant and rave by two writers. The rave was by Mark Cousins who talked about the “stare” of the film. He wrote, “Dumont has no pity in his eyes for his extraordinarily empathetic policeman, who seems to absorb all the evil he sees. This creates a completely gripping system of looks — icy cold looking at burning hot — which is miles away from the Film Studies categories of the gaze, the objectifying look, the invisible narrative look. The stare of L’humanité is CinemaScope Pasolini, unblinking Bresson.”‘ — MoC
Excerpt with commentary by Bruno Dumont
Twentynine Palms (2003)
‘Dumont’s third is perhaps his most polarizing film yet. If one were trying to plot where Dumont might go after his first two films, you’d be hard-pressed to plot this. It’s certainly no retread, and it marks a few important changes in Dumont’s approach. Firstly, it’s set in the USA; secondly, it features “proper actors” for the first time; and thirdly, it was written in two weeks whereas his earlier films took a number of years each. Twentynine Palms is a unique film which shows — in the simplest, bleakest terms — how senseless violence can engender further senseless violence. The visceral immediacy of this summation stays with you for days.’ — MoC
‘Flanders is a remarkable film, though it is not an easy film to digest. This is director Bruno Dumont’s fourth feature, and like his previous films, it contains scenes of crude behavior and gruesome brutality. Flanders is relentlessly bleak, but as it works its way into your bloodstream, the aftertaste is somewhat akin to relief. It’s like a confession. For those who allow it, Flanders offers the comfort of recognition, and acceptance, of what it means to be human. Dumont refutes the notion of film as entertainment with a monk’s diligence. An austere stylist, he pares everything down to its essence, so that a film like Flanders almost doesn’t feel like a film at all. He uses nonprofessional actors, there is no music on the soundtrack, and there is very little in the way of a story. It’s a bit like what happens when we look at an abstract expressionist painting. It’s better not to try to understand the painting on an intellectual level, but to let it enter your awareness through how it makes you feel, in your gut.’ — Beverly Berning, Culture Vulture
The making of Flandres
‘Hadewijch ends with a bang—or seems to—after which Hadewijch returns us to the convent for what at first feels like a flashback, and then like a dream (both of which would also be Dumont firsts), and which, even taken literally, ranks among the most haunting and profoundly beautiful sequences in all of Dumont’s work. It is a sequence that begins with an act of penance and builds to the long-delayed meeting between Hadewijch and a grubby-faced construction worker (Henri Cretel, who was the cuckolding friend in Flanders) labouring on the convent grounds. Like so much in Hadewijch, what happens between them can be seen as something entirely of this world or as an act of divine intervention. Either way, it reaffirms that Dumont himself is a cause very much worth believing in.’ — Scott Foundas, Cinema Scope
Hors Satan (2011)
‘In Hors Satan (Outside Satan), which premiered at Un Certain Regard in 2011, a drifter (David Dewaele) who lives in a makeshift shelter on the Côte d’Opale shore (a few stacked bricks next to his campfire block the wind) has an intimate friendship with a lanky young emo girl (Alexandra Lemâtre) in a nearby town; she feeds him loaves of bread and they spend time lounging on the meadows, but to her dismay, he rebuffs her romantic advances. Their closeness deepens after he kills her stepfather, for reasons that are only hinted at (sexual abuse), unlocking a cycle of violent acts that engulfs the local community. An air of mystery surrounds the craggy-faced drifter, a man of worship twice seen kneeling in prayer in the twilight, his folded hands and rapt face echoing faded illustrations of Marian visionaries. Regarded as a spiritual healer by at least one woman, who seeks him out to minister to her catatonic teenage daughter, upon whom he performs a strangely lascivious exorcism, Dumont’s laconic anti-hero is neither divine nor demonic, despite his apparent ability (glimpsed in one eerily gorgeous sequence) to conjure fire. This dualism is never resolved; it is set to spin like a gyroscope. Though Dumont’s thematic interest in religion and morality persists from Hadewijch, the film’s reality is not the world’s. Instead, we are confronted with profane Nature — instinct and wildness, in many guises — as well as a few (supernatural) puzzles, then left to decide the undecidable for ourselves.’ — Filmmaker Magazine
Camille Claudel 1915 (2013)
‘There are at least three beautiful things in Bruno Dumont’s depressing new film. First, there are cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines’s precise visual compositions. Stark and minimalist, at times they resemble classical Dutch painting. Second, there’s the film’s use of light—and Dumont’s patience with it. He employs lingering shots of the outdoor sun coming in through a gauzy window, or the light on a wall, or the shadows on a rug. Third, and most important, is Dumont’s use of light as metaphor for the radiance of Camille Claudel’s heart and soul. Camille (Juliette Binoche), one of history’s great tortured artists, is seen eking out a semblance of life in a rural lunatic asylum. From her prayers, and the look in her eyes, it’s clear that the light of God is within her. Aside from her brother, Paul (Jean-Luc Vincent), God is the only thing she can cling to. The barely-there narrative hinges upon Paul’s impending visit. Dumont surrounds Binoche with mentally handicapped actors—an unsettling choice that heightens the sense that Camille does not deserve her fate. He also makes Paul something of a heartless loon, so that when his much-anticipated visit takes place, it’s not long before Camille makes a scene, confirming her brother’s worst fears. Paul, in fact, has had a transfiguring experience, triggered by reading Rimbaud, and his own obsessive Catholic patter makes him seem even more off his rocker than Camille. It’s an impossibly hopeless situation, yet Dumont’s craft and Binoche’s face somehow achieve transcendence.’ — Film Comment
P’tit Quinquin (2014)
‘The thing you’ll remember about P’tit Quinquin, over even the most perfectly timed joke or the adorably misshapen head of Quinquin, is the face of Bernard Pruvost, as the detective protecting his flock from the murderer. Pruvost looks like Albert Einstein and has a facial tic that causes his face to move involuntarily in very noticable ways, meaning he delivers something like four reactions for every stimuli and sometimes more. He’s a real-world cartoon in Dumont’s hands, a man who never stifles his attempts at respectability, even though they’re constantly rejected. His attempts at yelling at some kids about highway safety are thwarted when his partner turns their car in the wrong direction with his head still hanging out the window. Upon learning of the state of the first victim, he muses, more to himself than anyone listening: “Headless…so I need the head, basically.” However funny he is, there is an undeniable sadness to Pruvost’s character, a man unable to stop his town from succumbing to the slowly encroaching darkness. A long take late in the film finds him sitting and listening to the church organist play only for him, his face soaking with sadness. He’s as much cop as activist priest, fighting the devil one sin at a time, preserving an innocence that isn’t his to protect. He’s this season’s most offbeat detective, beating out even Joaquin Phoenix’s coke-snorting Doc Sportello in Inherent Vice.’ — Scout Tafoya
Slack Bay (2016)
‘“Slack Bay” is a gestural burlesque of passion and rage, of tense manners yielding to furious desires, of carefully constructed appearances warped and rent by the constant and hidden force of the unspeakable, of a society that depends on radically maintained differences and distinctions that don’t hold up against relentless natural forces—and even of a metaphysical sense of wonder that distills the grand peculiarity of the whole crazy scheme into mysteries of a holy absurdity.’ — Richard Brody, The New Yorker
« Ma loute »: Bruno Dumont – rencontre
The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2017)
‘Pitched somewhere between Straub-Huillet and Headbangers Ball, Monty Python and Messiaen, Bruno Dumont’s new feature Jeannette, l’enfance de Jeanne d’Arc marks an unexpected and near-perfect synthesis of the French iconoclast’s many disparate interests and obsessions. Jeannette speaks most fully to both Dumont’s aleatoric process and his ideological constitution, traits which here find thrilling release in the form of a musical comedy inspired by the early life of France’s most famous martyr. Joining a long tradition of Joan of Arc films, Jeannette is unique amongst its forebears by the mere fact of its circumscribed vantage. While films by Bresson, Dreyer, Rivette, and Preminger have focused on Joan’s battlefield perils, her trial on charges of witchcraft and heresy, and eventual death at the stake at the age of 19, Dumont’s story centres on an adolescent Jeanne, from the throes of her spiritual awakening to her decision to leave home and take up arms. By reimagining the perspective of the prescribed Joan of Arc narrative, Dumont has in the process performed a keen bit of art-historical reconciliation, reframing the image of a woman whose life and legacy have been defined most often by her fate, rather than the complexities of her character.’ — Jordan Cronk
p.s. Hey. Michael Siebert has written an interesting piece about my work’s effect for The Outline if anyone’s interested. Here. ** Amphibiouspeter, Hey Amphibious one! Cool to see you! I’m pretty good, thanks, you? T’would be awesome if you’re around for the London PGL screening. I really want to go to Thorpe Park. That and Alton Towers. For all my love of theme parks, the only UK park I’ve been to is Diggerland, which is an odd version. What’s new and going on with you? ** John Fram, Hi, John! Cool, I’ll check my mail. I’m, as ever or often, slow on my mailbox attending. Yeah, it’s next month not next year, but I’ll be there for the PGL thing on Sept. 5th and 6th. Here’s the scoop. Please come, especially on the 5th, if you can. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Thank you. Amusement parks should be given immortal status by God. Yes, good news about the Fornes thing. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein alerts those who are interested and location-non-impaired to a festival celebrating the work of the great ‘Avant-Garde’ theater maker María Irene Fornés. Heres more about that. ** Politekid, Hey there! Excellent to see you! I’m good, busy as I guess is usual, but, yeah, good. That’s great if you can come see PGL in London, awesome! Yeah, supposedly they’re going to redo the Jurassic Park ride and make it more technologically amazing and all of that. Usually that means more projections on the walls and less charmingly awkward animatrons. Less cheap thrills, which usually is a bad thing. Man, take some time off. That sounds like way too much. I’m down with you about those two films completely. Now I need to rewatch. Getting scared of it could be a good thing if you let it stay horror movie scary and not insecure scary because insecure scary is a total lie. Lead Belly, whoa, that’s a great idea. You’ll finesse the voice. That’s totally doable. Just keep fooling around with the syllables and construction details and stuff, I’m sure you’ll ace it. I can either wait for the journal or, yeah, if you want to send me the pdf, I’m at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Either way. Hang in there with your work and enjoy your break from their work. ** Dominik, Hi, D! Happy Saturday! The meeting was with our producer. We’re about to send ARTE a proposal for how we intend to change the script to satisfy them, and our producer has to sign off on it first. Predictably, it was a hellish meeting because she had stupid, horrible demands for us to dumb down and normalise everything, so it was basically two hours of arguing and fighting with her until she finally had no choice but to give up. Such a waste of time and passion. The synopsis is really flummoxing me, but I’m still on it. I have to finish it soon because there’s a funding deadline that’s beginning to loom. Zac and I go to NYC on the 4th and get back to Paris on the 10th, and then we go to London on the 14th and get back to Paris on the 16th. Sucks and so sorry that you had deal with all that boredom. Yeah, I mean if the job is doing that to you, you have to bail before that effect encroaches on your life and work. Understandable. Ugh, so sorry to hear that. My week has been fine, pretty work-filled, but what else is new. People are mostly back now. This guy Diarmuid Hester, very fine fellow and writer and scholar, who is writing my biography, or, rather, a ‘critical biography’ about me and my work, is here for a week, so I’ve been seeing him and talking a lot. Yesterday he interviewed Zac and me about our filmmaking. It was interesting. But, yeah, a lot of work. I need to get out and about more. Maybe this weekend. I hope you got to spend a weekend completely free of anything even remotely depressing or boring. And, hey, you go to Holland soon, right? xo. ** Bill, I’m totally down for that Wicker Man coaster too, yes. Lots of wood and lots of fire is such a great combination. Well, except in California. One could totally make the kind of theme park you’re suggesting in a really analogue way. For instance, the other day I rode one of those ride-through dark rides that traveling carnivals always have at least one of, at the Tuileries. And it was shitty, as always, but, as always, it had a really great layout and structure. And I thought, as I always think, ‘You know, if someone gave me even $20,000, I could make this ride really great.’ So you could buy a whole lot of those dark rides, set them up somewhere, and, for not that much dough, design/decorate each one to illustrate an indie film, and it would be a great, great amusement park. And people would flock to it, I’m absolutely sure. ** Jamie, Heighty-ho Jamie! I’m very excited about the EuroDisney expansion, yes! Very! That park, Hollywood Studios, has a few excellent rides, but it’s pretty crap, but what they’re going to do to it will make it a billion times better, not to mention increasing its size so hugely. Yeah, I’m very psyched. I think the blue mountain thing is going to be ‘Frozen’ themed area, which sounds gross, but, in practice, it could be cool to have a ‘snowy, icy’ thematic. Yes, I would go to the Nickelodeon thing. China is really kicking ass on the amusement park front. I really have to go there. I’m sorry you’ve been sleep-deprived and consequently cranky. I know exactly what that’s like. I hope you get to crash lengthily tonight. Hooking up on Friday equals yes! Yes with bells on! Let’s ink that in! Me, just work-work. I told Dominik the scoop up above a bit. Weekend: work-work, mostly. Maybe a movie or some art. Should be all right. Man, wish I could train or swim or flap my arms and fly over to Hannah’s event. Let me know how it went. I’m sure it’ll be great. Of course you’re right on the vocoder front. I was just being silly. Heck, I think Beyonce, for instance, would be a million times better if all her vocals were vocoder-enhanced so I wouldn’t have to hear all that ‘I can sing!’, ‘I’m on the high end of conventionally gifted in the vocals area!’, ‘Listen to my passion!’ stuff. May your weekend be like an epic concert during which no instrumentalist does any solos and no singer adds a bunch of ‘woo woo woo’ and ‘oh, yeah’ ad libs in-between the lyrics. So cranky I am beyond crank love, Dennis. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. That Wicker Man coaster is at a UK park, but, otherwise, yeah, not much exciting news from UK parks this time. Just a fluke. Please do tell me if there are any breakthroughs regarding the disputed Flamingo Land in Loch Lomond, yes! ** Steve Erickson, Ah, the ‘good’ old self-defeating blah attitude about non-narrative film. Yuck. Really, really great luck if you need any at all for your shoot on Sunday! So exciting! Please report back. ** Cal Graves, Hi, Cal! ‘Late’ is very relative around here, no big. Cool, you’re almost outta there. There being classes. Tick-tick! I’m good. All of my projects are growing in the right direction at varying speeds, some of which are perfectly fine speeds and some of which are too pokey, but it’ll be fine. I agree with you one billion percent, of course, about amusement parks’ ultra-ripeness for exploitation in realms beyond. Enjoy the build-up to your last classes. Any fun plans for the in-between time? Never too caffeinatedly, Dennis ** Nik, I know, I know, right? I’m always tempted to make blog posts that consist entirely of under 12s’ youtube banter. Great, fantastic about the Fahey post! Whenever works best for you, no worries. Intros from anywhere are kosher. I’ve used intros in posts from the NYT on multiple occasions. I laid out the meeting up above, I think to Dominik. It was obnoxious, but, in the end, it worked out okay-ish. Mm, well, as you said, showing them new or old work is up to you. Like if it’s exciting to polish up new things, that’s your answer, and if you don’t have the time or brain, I’m sure pre-existing work will do the trick, no? Have a sweet weekend. ** Okay. I made a Bruno Dumont post on my dead blog, but it was so long ago that it was really out of date, and so I just made a new one that suits our times re: him. Enjoy exploring his work. See you on Monday.