Emotional Machines: the films of Bruno Dumont

16 02 2012
Bruno Dumont, Hadewijch film

'Hadewijch'

There’s a nice moment in Bruno Dumont’s hypnotic 2003 road movie Twentynine Palms when two weary travellers, an American photographer and his Russian girlfriend, are slobbing out in a California motel room. In a corner of the room, half-ignored, is a TV showing a series of abstract images; a camera panning slowly around the outside of a building at night, the scene lit by periodic flashes of neon. “What’s that?” the woman asks eventually in French, the only language that the lovers have in common. “I dunno”, he says. “An art movie I think.”

Dumont’s own films would, it’s fair to say, be located firmly within the ‘art movie’ bracket by most people. Over the last 15 years, the French director has ploughed a unique furrow in European cinema, with a series of films (La Vie de Jesus, L’Humanité, Flandres) that have sharply divided, and sometimes outraged, audiences and critics alike.

This week Dumont’s 2009 film Hadewijch appears in UK cinemas, more than a year after its release in France, the United States and other countries. It tells the story of Céline (Julie Sokolowski), a devout young woman who is expelled from a convent for her extreme devotional practices (fasting, exposing herself to the elements) and told to go out and experience the world before deciding to devote herself to God. Returning to Paris, and her wealthy parents, she soon befriends Yassine (Yassine Chikh), a young Muslim from an impoverished housing estate with leanings towards Islamic extremism. Céline, the virginal Christian extremist, becomes involved in Yassine’s Islamist world and eventually in his violent plans.

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Leave It to the Non-Professionals

10 09 2009

 

Katie Jarvis in 'Fish Tank'

Katie Jarvis in 'Fish Tank'

There’s a story that when Luchino Visconti was filming La Terra Trema, his 1948 neo-realist study of the lives of Sicilian fishermen, he tied fishing wire to the toes of his actors. This wasn’t, as you might imagine, anything to do with keeping them inside a boat or preventing them from wandering off. No, the wires were there so that the director and his crew could pull on them to give a prompt whenever it was time for an actor to speak.

You see, the actors in La Terra Trema were all non-professionals, real-life fishermen who Visconti had selected for their hard-worn looks and thick Sicilian dialect. The fishermen certainly looked the part, but often had difficulty remembering lines or knowing when it was their turn to speak. Visconti was finding out the hard way that working with non-professionals is not always as straightforward as it might seem.  

Since then, hiring non-professional actors has become the trademark of directors searching for a certain kind of authenticity in their work, almost to the point of cliché. Everyone from Gus Van Sant to Shane Meadows is at it, the former casting his 2007 film Paranoid Park through an advert on My Space.  

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