*A 2007 (U.S.) Release*
In a recent interview, French filmmaker Bruno Dumont succinctly described his cinema as "physical," before going on to state that "it eliminates everything to do with the intellect -- speech, explaining, analyzing -- to limit itself to desires, very immediate things, like desire, rivalry, jealousy and envy. I work with that." And that he certainly does, proved by his first three features: The Life of Jesus (1997), Humanit (1999), and Twentynine Palms (2003). But instead of reinforcing the operatic essence of those "desires," Dumont employs minimalism in order to gaze inward before factoring human beings down to their most primary. Besides formal techniques, the use of non-professional actors in naturalistic settings helps him accomplish his task.
Much like his first two efforts, Dumonts latest, Flanders (Flandres), was shot in his hometown of Bailleul in Northeastern France. Bailleul is nothing like the idyllic French towns so often seen in films. Here called Flanders (the blanket evolving term for the region), its dark and gray, marked by harsh, desolate landscape and, for the most part, unattractive people. "When you film a landscape, it represents the characters interior mood," Dumont has said, and the films protagonist, Andre Dmester (Samuel Boidin), a rugged, introverted young farmer is certainly in a discomforting place. If the shots of overcast skies and brittle tree branches epitomize his emotional state, then his mechanical, lifeless existence is captured with the churning blades of his tractor. The sex he has with a fragile, promiscuous local gal, Barbe (a very good Adlade Leroux), is also perfunctory and emotionless. It becomes obvious, however, that Barbe does hold some feelings for Dmester, even though she doesnt know what to expect back from this recluse. He, on the other hand, is perhaps intimated by her beauty, and feels unworthy of her. But he doesnt quite realize that this behavior from him is part of the reason why she constantly searches for new escapades. One night at a bar, she picks up a handsome local, Blondel (Henri Cretel), in front of Dmester, later @#%$ him in full view outside in the parking lot. It turns out that both Blondel and Dmester belong in the same military division, as theyre shortly sent off to fight a war (our protagonist doesnt know which one).
Nor do we ever learn about this "war," which takes place in a desert landscape against individuals who look "Middle Eastern." And thats precisely because Dumont didnt want the proceedings to turn political (though thats easier said than done). He wanted to focus on these men, the soldiers who have little to no grasp of the overall context of the situation, yet there they are in the most extreme conditions, doing whatever they can to survive. While staging convincing (and logical) military action and protocol may not be Dumonts forte, it's almost besides the point (similar to what the police procedural from Humanit was). This allows the filmmaker to simply move from one "situation" to another, focusing on the ever-assertive Bestiality of Man. And for better or for worse, unlike, say, an Eastwood or a Cronenberg, Dumont doesnt allow any room for contemplation; it seems as if to him its simply a given. After brutally murdering two youngster who may or may not have ambushed them earlier, the men gang rape a young girl who may or may not have been a combatant. Not that it wouldve made a difference: "A hole is a hole," someone mutters. Meanwhile, the "hole" Dmester and Blondel (and others) left behind at home begins to cause problems for Barbe, the news of which ultimately reaches the duo, not long before theyre captured for their indiscretions.
More practical than poetic in totality, Flanders is arguably the most accessible film Dumont has made thus far. That could perhaps be taken both as a positive and a negative. While the filmmaker manages to bring his point home, the less than compelling third act of the film feels mechanical in a familiar sort of way. It also suffers from simplistic exposition heretofore unheard in Dumont films. But amidst the turbulence, he's able to find a moment quite remarkable and unique. Some may call it a compromise; others might refer to it as a progression. But considering that it emanates in a Dumont film, it feels subversive all the same.
*FLANDERS premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival (in-competition). It won the Grand Prix.
*The U.S. DVD (Koch Lorber) is scheduled to be released on Nov 6th.
[Edit]Added Grade/DVD info