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Bruno Dumont on how to maintain a complicated relationship with God

Movies are dominated by industrialization like any other form of entertainment. The investors, the producers, the directors but also the popcorn or the audience. All participants are unanimously guided by patterns, patterns that ensure the stability of common interests, in flows of production and consumption that are predictable and boring. Especially for many like the film director Bruno Dumont.

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Thursday, December 23rd 2021 ·.·★ Reading takes 14 minutes or 2869 words.


The Frenchman Bruno Dumont has a very high concept of cinema and is very depressed with modern movies. According to him, he also does it since as a child he was captivated by the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson. His concept of his cinema is so high in fact that it has divine traits for him: ′God exists, but only in the cinema′ -said the director. Despite the image of an enraged atheist that he has created, he is sometimes capable of doubting himself. ′I am not an atheist but I reject all religions,′ he assured the Argentine newspaper La Nación, when they asked him directly about his religious position.

It has been said that the best religious films have been made by atheists. I personally believe in a God capable of having that sense of humor but Bruno Dumont′s films, unlike other religious films, often contain extremely explicit violence and sex. There aren′t enough diamonds to classify many of his movies! The protagonists suffer terrible misadventures under the hands of other characters. Of course, none of his characters had suffered something as terrible as being burned alive. At least not until this past year, that he began to record the life of Joan of Arc with ′Jeannette, l ′ enfance de Jeanne d ′ Arc′.

The ideas of the writer Charles Pierre Péguy were marked by socialism and French nationalism until at the end of his life he converted to Catholicism. It was then, in 1913, when he wrote titles such as the play ′La Tapisserie de Sainte Genevive et de Jeanne d ′ Arc′, that Bruno Dumont read when he thought of doing a musical. Vanity magazine describes the result of his approach to the subversive mystique as ′a blasphemous assault on French history, religion and music′.

The innocent first steps of Joan of Arc

The French mystic Joan of Arc faced the English occupation, was tried for heresy by the Archbishop of Beauvais and finally burned alive on January 6, 1412. ′I do not believe in religion, but I do believe in some values that they contain.′ - assures Bruno Dumont. ′Rather, I believe in the spirituality of man, in that of the birds. Religion has taken from the human the ethereal state of him, to know who he is and what he does on Earth. I just want him to give back some of what he took from him, that is, life on this planet. ′

Bruno Dumont is rightly upset when he is compared to French director Robert Bresson. Robert Bresson was a Catholic and a lover of Jansenist theology, which like that of the Calvinists emphasizes asceticism, original sin, and the grace of God. Bruno Dumont assures that his lack of faith makes a big difference in his own work and that atheism should be reinterpreted if the definition of it does not allow an atheist to be fascinated by wonder, spirituality and supernatural reality. For this reason, it follows the tradition of the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, where in presumably realistic films the statues can be moved by themselves or the dead can appear. In French films, fires can be put out by balancing as in ′Hors Satan′ and detectives can fly out in the form of balloons as in ′Ma Loute.′

The spirituality of a girl expressed by Bruno Dumont is partly reminiscent of ′Ponette′, the film by Parisian Jacques Doillon in 1996. Ponette is the leading girl who gives the film its title and that as a result of the death of her mother he immerses himself in the search for that Jesus who is capable of raising the dead. I do not have enough words to thank José de Segovia for having left it to me. ′My films are mystical′ - says Bruno Dumont in the Huffington Post - ′they have the objective of making people feel the mystery and encourage them to experience for themselves the miracle of existence.′ ′I often read Saint Augustine, I like his poetry, also the Bible, which is good for making plays, and Jesus is a great character, for example from a movie.′

The spectators of the life of Jesus

′La vie de Jésus′ is the title she gave in 1997 to his first film. He had spent the first 30 years of his life reading philosophy, recording industrial machinery, and seeking inspiration from movie classics. ′The life of Jesus′, which is how it has been translated into Spanish, is actually the life of an ordinary teenager, in more than ordinary settings in the tiny town in northeast France where the director, Bailleul, grew up. Bruno Dumont took advantage of the promotional trailer to record the actors after filming, while ensuring that they had no idea why the film had been titled ′The Life of Jesus.′ The reality, however, is that there is a particular moment in the film in which Jesus of Nazareth appears.

Jesus of Nazareth appears with his friend Lazarus, who has just risen but is still wrapped in bandages, in a plate from the fresco that Giotto di Bondone painted in 1304. The framed plate is hung in the white room of the hospital, where the actors have surrounded the stretcher of one of the protagonist′s friends. This scene is also an obvious nod to Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer′s popular scene in ′Ordet,′ but unlike the scene in Dreyer or the Gospels, in Bruno Dumont′s scene the dying friend does not get up. Finally one of the friends stumbles upon the painting: ′Do you see the painting? It′s about a guy who came back to life. As if the one who had brought him back to life was not also in the painting, the director once again ignores Jesus - as if there were no interest or attraction in him. ′Shut!′ - the protagonist finally whispers to him.

Bruno Dumont is fascinated with humanism and in a sense it was foreseeable that he would find a problem with Jesus. Many believers on the other hand have become uncomfortable over the centuries with the humanity of Christ, but this was not the case with Jesus himself. Jesus in the gospels takes for himself one of the most common names of his time and spares no effort in showing himself over and over again as a man. Being the human being one of the favorite themes of the French director, it is not surprising that he repeatedly uses the biblical story of Adam and Eve: the key moment where humanity is defined according to our own culture.

Searching for Paradise Lost by Twentynine Palms

Cinema was invented in France and it is no coincidence that for the settings of paradise Bruno Dumont chose the desert surroundings of Hollywood. The first president of the United States of America, George Washington, had collaborated in the war against the Indians and the French declared between 1754 and 1763. In 1850 he paid his nephew, Colonel Henry Washington, to recognize and name all of them. these dry occupied lands, as Adam gave the animals their names. When Henry Washington came across 29 palm trees on his way, he used them as inspiration to give the name to these 150 square kilometers that also give title to this kind of road movie by Bruno Dumont.

The French director had never left northern France to record in his life, so a surprised journalist then asked him how he would overcome the language barrier: ′I will learn English - Bruno Dumont answered confident of himself. In reality, the problem of language and communication between the two protagonist lovers is present from the beginning and the few secondary characters are markedly diabolical. God there is completely absent again while the leading couple walks around naked and believes they have found their place in the world. During their walks in the garden, they take time to visit the Joshua Tree. A tree that goes beyond the symbol of the ′Tree of knowledge of good and evil.′ This nickname ′Joshua Tree′ also evokes various colonizations: Hollywood in the movies, the English in America and, of course, the Hebrews in Canaan.

Few scenes are needed to discover that the reality of the couple is marked by a chain of spiraling disagreements and that they will not be successful in their search for grace. A tiresome series of misunderstandings, in a toxic relationship, make the breakdown of the relationship predictable and even desirable. Which is just when the apocalyptic final event arrives that pushes the viewer out of slumber. The terrifying scene the viewer sees then can probably overwhelm him for the rest of his life. Lars von Trier, for example, will use this same idea shortly afterwards and quite successfully for his film ′Antichrist.

Hadewijch′s Christian mysticism

′I wanted to show the perfect love between a woman and a man - says Bruno Dumont of his film Hadewych- ′but also about the difficulty of loving in our life. That is why I went to heaven, to show that there is an opportunity on Earth . On the surface it might seem that the film is about Christian and Muslim fundamentalisms but Bruno Dumont acknowledged that it is the biblical story of Adam and Eve that is behind this other leading couple. Christ as the second Adam is absent again. The silence of God and the madness generated by the lack of love in its religious protagonists transports us to scenarios that it shares with films such as ′The Communicants′, ′The Seventh Seal′ or ′As in a mirror′ by the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

Hadewijch is not only the name of the troubled nun who stars in the film, but also that of the mystical writer Hadewijch from Antwerp. This mystic was born in the thirteenth century less than two hours by car from where Bruno Dumont was born and she bears many similarities with other characters that have interested him. Hadewijch from Antwerp was part of a women′s collective that took on the church authorities under the name ′Beguines.′ These women went to great lengths to help the underprivileged of the town in a self-managed way, they used the town′s language instead of Latin to communicate their visions, poetry or teachings, and they confronted the clergy on issues that led many of them to be persecuted. and even burned alive, as happened in 1310 to Marguerite Porete, the author of ′The Mirror of Simple Souls′.

Despite the fact that he assures that all art is a lie, Bruno Dumont insists on seeking authenticity through landscapes and faces. With some exceptions such as Camille Claudel 1915, he usually spends most of his time looking for non-professional actors, particularly ugly on many occasions. He hopes that they will be able in any case to bring their own peculiarities to the character and in fact many characters have the actors′ own names at the end. It is no mystery that we can speak better of what we know and the feeling of being lost, in addition, it is something that every human being knows. Although some have learned to hide it better than others. ′Actors act better when they are more lost′ - he assures him.

To know that if Christ was resurrected ...

The evangelist John wrote that ′Jesus wept′ when he received the news that his friend Lazarus had died. What could make an omniscient and almighty God cry? The evangelist does not say. In the Bible we see that Jesus took the opportunity to put his friends in center stage, of course without Jesus his friends were completely lost. The search for truth is a constant in Bruno Dumont′s work as well as in philosophy, but listening to him it is not clear that he knows where to start. Knowing how to recognize the lie does not necessarily imply having discovered the truth. Is there really a difference between fiction and reality? Is it in tragedy or comedy? If the truth is in the confrontation of opposites, why should we avoid extremes?

Often it gives the impression that more than seeking the truth, he is trying to flee from it. The great success of Bruno Dumont is to have highlighted that if everything is a lie, the only thing that remains is the present experience and what better than a wonderful experience! Why is it so hard for us to recognize it? Life is full of miracles. Just waking up each morning reminds us of how little control we have had over ourselves during the night′s sleep. For example, what have we done to keep our respiratory system or our heart pumping? It does not matter too much if we have died or are still living in the morning, something always reminds us that life is not in our hands.

The Royal Academy of the Spanish Language collects up to thirteen different meanings that the use of the name of Christ has colloquially. ′To have a face like a christ′ or ′do something like all christ′ are just two ways of using his name in vain. The Galician atheist Yosi uses the latter in one of his songs for Los Suaves: ′if Christ rose, all Christ can rise′ - shouts the singer categorically. The Sevillian poet Antonio Machado wrote that this type of provocation to the divine so typically Spanish, it is paradoxically an indicator of faith and does not infuriate a God like the one revealed in Jesus. A God who with Christ has made the resurrection extend precisely to the whole world: ′Because God so loved the world′ - the evangelist himself clearly says - ′who gave his Only Begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not lose himself but have eternal life′.


This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Bruno Dumont sobre cómo mantener una relación complicada con Dios


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