Hadewijch: An Interview with Bruno Dumont
A former philosophy professor, 52-year-old writer-director Bruno Dumont got his start making commercial films in the ’80s, eventually penning a novel that served as the basis for his extraordinary 1996 debut La Vie de Jesus. Filmed in the tiny provincial hamlet of Bailleul, France, where Dumont grew up, this story of a listless gang of moped-riding teens has nothing at all to do with the Gospels: it is an oblique title for a movie that begins and ends with a death, and whose epileptic protagonist is an odd-looking, hauntingly inexpressive adolescent. Humanité, which won the Grand Prix at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, mined a similar Bressonian aesthetic, scrutinizing an introverted, socially inept policeman who empathizes with a litter of pigs and accused criminals. Unlike his other films, which took years to complete, Twentynine Palms (2003) was conceived on the fly while Dumont was scouting locations in California, and the emphasis on mood and environment—the terror of vast spaces and naked instinct—provided an objective correlative for the languorous meanderings and raw, animalistic lovemaking of a doomed couple. In Dumont’s hands, the desert setting felt alien and isolating, more like a desolate moonscape than John Ford’s mythic America. Menace and foreboding hang in the air, ennui permeates the lovers’ futile attempts at conversation, and it all culminates in a Grand Guignol of psychosexual terror. With Flanders, another Cannes Grand Prix winner in 2006, Dumont returned to rural France to mount a story about the brutality of war, winning new converts to his earthy, visceral, often disturbing vision of human existence.