French Director, Bruno Dumont Updates "The Life of Jesus"
by Brandon Judell
Using nonactors, Bruno Dumont with “Life of Jesus” (“La Vie de Jésus“)
has created a pounding, scathing yet empathetic look at rural France.
Peopled with unemployed youth, the film follows one young epileptic
gent, Freddy (David Douche), through the blank days of his motorbiking
with friends, explicit lovemaking with his girlfriend (Marjorie
Cottreel) who works in a grocery store, and his occasional fits. When he
becomes involved in sexual battery, racial attacks, and worse, you’re
not exactly surprised. But is Freddy really the Christ of the nineties?
Whatever your verdict, the film has already the winner of the “Discovery
of the Year, Fassbinder Award” and “Best Film” and “International
Critic’s Prize” at the Sao Paulo Film Festival. The film was also a
highlight of the Montreal World Film Festival where we interviewed the
surly, attractive director.
Born in Bailleul, France, 40 years ago, Mr. Dumont drenched himself in
the study of philosophy. After teaching for a while, he became schooled
in TV commercials, industrial documentaries and promotional shorts to
get down the technique. In 1993, he directed “Paris,” a short, and
scripted the TV series “Arthur et les Fusées.” “The Life of Jesus,”
which opens this Friday, is his first feature.
(Please note our conversation passed through the lips of a sultry French
translator whose English class grades were probably in the C range.)
indieWIRE: Where are you from?
Bruno Dumont: North of Paris. It’s called Lille.
iW: There are a lot of films coming out of Europe now like “Hate” that
deal with the social problems of what it means to be a European
nowadays. The answer is no longer always white. Is that one of the
points of your film?
Dumont: When you make movies, you have to be preoccupied with the social
problems, otherwise there is no point in making a movie. To have a
story, you need a social problem. Not necessarily a problem, but
something to get the idea for a story, otherwise there’s no story.
iW: You might hate this question, but why do you call the film the “Life
of Jesus”? Your production notes mention you read a philosophical work
with that title?
Dumont: (Makes face and at first refuses to answer.) Because I want to
know the meaning of the life of Jesus. What that means today for the
iW: Now the lead character with epilepsy, what is he supposed to
represent? Is he the Christ figure?
Dumont: Christ is the man who’s spiritually and morally is the person
who was the higher. I don’t know how to explain that. Nobody,
spiritually or morally, has been higher than the Christ. Everybody knows
the Christ life today. That is not what interests me. It’s how we can
elevate our soul, our spiritual, our morals, and Freddy is a man who is
able to be high. He lives in misery. He lives in bad but he will go up
in his life. He will do something, and that’s what’s important. Not to
stay low. To be able to go higher morally. That’s the sense of Jesus’
iW: Has the film opened in France yet?
iW: Does everyone in France rave about you? Do they think you’re
Dumont: The movie had a big impact in France, yes.
iW: What was that impact?
Dumont: The first big impact was in Cannes. The critics, they all agreed
that it was good, and they all kind of thought the same thing about the
film. The majority of people were all thinking the same thing about the
film. It’s a new way to make movies.
iW: Were any religious groups offended by the picture or did they also
embrace the film?
Dumont: The general Catholic press appreciated the film but the
fundamentalists, they wanted to censor it. They didn’t want the movie to
iW: Like the Godard film on Christ and his mom?
Dumont: In the Godard film, there is a distance. The film I have done
has nothing to with Godard’s movie.
iW: I was just wondering if there was a similar reaction. Now that
you’re such a big success, does that mean you’ll have no problem getting
a lot of money for your next film?
Dumont: Yes, but I don’t want too much. (Laughs) I don’t need too much
money to do
iW: Is the next film already set in your mind?
Dumont: The film is already written. It’s in preproduction.
iW: Can you talk about it at all?
iW: Now you’re very attractive for a director. Are you married or do you
have all these young women and actresses running after you? Jeanne
Moreau used to say she went to bed with all her directors.
TRANSLATOR: (confused) What?
iW: Is Mr. Dumont a sex symbol in France?
TRANSLATOR: (Laughs) Bruno wants to know if you want to know if he
sleeps with his actresses?
iW: Not necessarily. He can go where he wants to with the question.
Whatever you want to share. We’re trying to get some background here.
Are you a married man with five children or a single guy living with a
Dumont: I’m married. I have children.
TRANSLATOR: A crazy question.
iW: Well, that settles that. Now you’re extremely well read in
philosophy and I’m sure in other genres, much more than most American
directors. Now it seems in the States today, everyone wants to make a
film whether they have something to say or not. You apparently have so
much to say. What do you think of these other directors?
Dumont: I think there’s not a lot of real filmmakers. There are only a
few people who make real cinema. I can count them on my fingers.
iW: Can you name one or two? Two fingers worth at least.
Dumont: A lot of them are dead. Bergman, Bresson, Pasolini, Rossellini,
iW: A lot of directors are going to be crying when they hear your list.
By the way, what do you hope Americans will get out of your film?
Dumont: I would like them to be hit by the movie. A shock. I don’t much
care what they think. I want them to be shocked. My interest is about
the body, not the mind. I don’t care about what they think. I care about
what they feel. I think that the cinema is a physical thing. What I’m
looking for is creating a physical shock with the audience. I don’t care
of the meaning. I don’t care of the idea. I don’t want to say something.
I want to make a “shock physique.”
iW: How long did it take you to write this film?
Dumont: Nine months.
iW: And how long did it take to make your children?
Dumont: The same time.
iW: Which was easier on your wife, giving birth or being with you while
you made this film? Which gave her more headaches?
Dumont: You’ll have to ask her.