Two-time Grand Jury Prize winning French director, screenwriter and editor Bruno Dumont has directed a decuple of feature films which have garnered him a widely held reputation as the cinematic successor of fellow French helmer, Robert Bresson, in his striking adoption of a minimalist and ascetic filmic approach. Dumont’s contentious body of work has led him to be considered one of the vanguard artist in the contemporary New French Extremity movement which focuses intimately on character psychology and corporeality, also earning him prominent fans which include Michael Haneke (HAPPY END), Yorgos Lanthimos (THE LOBSTER) and Antonio Campos (CHRISTINE).
Born in the Northern French region of Hauts-de-France, Dumont’s artistic and educational background of Western philosophy and corporate video undoubtedly influences his cinematic style, consisting of profound explorations of the human emotive experience in conjunction with long, lingering takes and penetrative, corporeal close-ups which populate his visually exquisite art-house films. Dumont’s inaugural feature length, the Camera d’Or and Prix Jean Vigo-winning provocative drama, The Life of Jesus (1997), portraying young, unemployed Freddy (David Douche) whose daily existence is ruptured by the arrival of Kader (Kader Chaatouf) who vies to seduce Freddie’s girlfriend, is a testament to this fact. Dumont’s controversial, fiercely visceral filmic style is introduced in this inaugural work which deals with predatory behaviour, sexual assault and the sex act itself in a carnal, primitive manner.
It is clear that one of Dumont’s artistic goals is to vigorously shake-up his viewer’s typical filmic experience by offering intense portrayals of incendiary violence and sex, a feature of his work which does not relent in his follow-up film and the first of the director’s films to win the prestigious Grand Prix award, Humanity. The 1999 drama engrossingly explores the complex mechanisms of human emotions in the dialogue-stripped tale of an emotionally barren policeman, Pharaon (Emmanuel Schotté), who is assigned to investigate the rape and murder of a schoolgirl. A unique characteristic of Dumont’s work is his ability to adeptly and seamlessly merges the two filmic genre poles of realistic drama and avant-garde, exemplified in his romance mystery, Twentynine Palms (2003), a portrayal of the predominantly non-verbal yet deeply intense relationship that flourishes between ethnic Russian Katia (Yekaterina Golubeva) and young American photographer, David (David Wissak).
Dumont addresses this striking melange with an illuminating lucidity that gets to the core of his filmic attitude: “I’m not a naturalistic filmmaker at all. My work is all about transfiguration. It’s an entirely poetic world. It’s totally surrealist,” he declares. “But the only way to strive for reality is to go through reality. That’s the paradox.” Indeed, this is demonstrated in the director’s later exploration of the complexities of romantic relationships in his second Grand Prix-winning drama, Flandres (2006), illustrating the experiences of a young man, André (Samuel Boidin), who faces two very different types of affronts after he is cheated on by his girlfriend then in sent to war in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. This distinctive style of his has steadily garnered him strong recognition over the years; in 2007, the auteur was appointed the head of the Official Competition Jury at the 5th Vladivostok ‘Pacific Meridian’ International Film Festival and the following year he was made president of the ‘Caméra d’Or’ jury at the 61st Cannes International Film Festival.
In 2009, Dumont released his vividly Bresson-influenced drama, Hadewijch (2009), portraying the experiences of the namesake young novice Sister (Julie Sokolowski) who engages in an overzealous exploration of acetic life, earning herself an expulsion from her convent which ultimately facilitates her foray into secular life, during which period she develops a complex relationship with a young man. Two years later, Dumont’s naturalistic drama, Hors Satan, offered audiences an extension of his raw filmic style in a narrative which is devoid of any soundtrack or external music, following a recluse (played by David Dewaele) living on the outskirts of a village who retains a relationship with a gothic-esque dressed girl (played by Alexandre Lematre) who goes to the recluse for protection from her sexually abusive father-in-law. In 2013, the auteur’s first biographical film, Camille Claudel 1915, presents a poignant account of the eponymous, revered sculptor (played by the esteemed Juliette Binoche) as she struggles with trying mental health issues and maintains a strained romantic relationship with fellow venerated artist, Auguste Rodin.
The following year, Dumont’s four episode murder mystery TV mini-series, Li’l Quinquin, following the namesake adolescent protagonist (played by Alane Delhaye) living in Northern France who becomes embroiled in a police investigation, drew in 1.4 million viewers when it was broadcast on French television and was also honoured in the prestigious Cahiers du Cinéma poll as best film of 2014. The series was followed by Dumont’s return to the big screen in his comedy period drama set in the early 1900s, Slack Bay, selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The auteur latest film set for release later this year, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, is sure to render 2017 Dumont’s year, as the musical adaptation of the French heroine’s early years, in which newcomer Lise Leplat Prudhomme plays the young Jeannette in the vibrantly dynamic drama, has already been touted as a vividly energised and sonorously bountiful drama. Indeed with filmic muses that include Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman and Pier Paolo Pasolini, it is not unlikely that Dumont will soon find himself set staunchly in the same regard as these filmic icons.