Like Gaspar Noé with a colder, reptilian eye, or a brutalist Robert Bresson, Bruno Dumont cut a divide through contemporary cinematic circles with his first three features. That this swath is tiny and both his detractors and supporters fall largely within that camp we could label “serious cinephiles” is a shame (Twentynine Palms may be the best psychological thriller in recent memory), but understandable: Dumont’s is a singularly unpleasant body of work. But don’t think for a second that unpleasantness precludes magnificence. A critic once wrote of his own inability to climb onboard with (and therefore show much interest in) Dumont’s vision of a blank, empty humanity most often caught painfully rutting and rutted in an existence generally not far removed from the average wild beast. To each his own, but to allow a certain kind of species-bound egoism to deny a priori the validity of Dumont’s query, the idea that perhaps we’re not so far removed in aspect from the beast we eat for dinner or watch on “Planet Earth,” seems a touch naive, or at the very least close-minded. And whether you agree with this taciturn French filmmaker about humankind’s prospects as a species or not, the extreme dourness of his narratives undeniably make his rare moments of spiritual uplift all the more earned.
Click here to read the rest of Jeff Reichert’s review of Bruno Dumont’s Flanders.