Emotional Machines: the films of Bruno Dumont

16 02 2012
Bruno Dumont, Hadewijch film


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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May to September

18 05 2010

Louis Malle 'Milou en mai'

'Milou en mai'

When I was fifteen

It was a very good year

A very good year for foreign films on Channel 4…


In The Wasteland TS Eliot famously wrote that ‘April is the cruellest month’. Well, I have to say, I’ve never really much agreed with him. Perhaps its the sight of the first butterflies and housemartins of the year, perhaps its the budding and blossoming of the trees, or perhaps its just that my birthday falls on the 28th of the month, but for me April’s always seemed to be a time of year full of hope; a time to start looking forward to the long hot summer ahead, or, if you’re not going away to the Med., at least to bank holiday weekends and fresh strawberries in the supermarkets.

But if April is a time of renewal then May is doubly so. May is bluebells in shady woodland groves and tentative visits to the seaside. May is fresh asparagus and cherries and that first barbecue of the year. For cinéastes May is also the month of the Cannes Film Festival: a time to be intrigued and excited by a whole new batch of fresh, nutritious world cinema.

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