Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Afternoon with Dumont

During a recent Q and A session at the Walter Reade Theater (March 5), following the screening of his latest picture, Flandres, director Bruno Dumont briefly outlined his aesthetic principles. Chief among them was a Flaubertian insistence on the concealment of the author's artistic signature. Among the stylistic features of his films that Dumont highlighted were the lack of music on the soundtrack, minimal camera movement and the casting of non-professional actors. In reference to his refusal to use music in his films, Dumont decried the manipulative tendencies of a composed score which cues the audience on how to react. With the inclusion of music, he explained, the immediate impact of the film may be greater, but without it the film will engage the audience's thinking for far longer after the initial viewing.

Even without a score, Dumont's images are potent enough to impact the most jaded viewer. Beautiful long shots illustrating the vast expanse of Dumont's native Flanders, shot in 35 mm, contrast with horrific rapes and other atrocities that occur in the course of an unnamed war, in secnes shot in 16 mm in Tunisia. It's debatable whether the film would continue to engage the viewer's imagination for as long if a soundtrack were included, but the power of the images is manifest in either case.

In an era where most films feature non-stop soundtracks, constant cuts and camera movement and a generic visual style, Dumont's insistence on the opposite marks him out from his fellow directors and makes the author's hand more evident, rather than invisible as he claims is his intention. Few would mistake Dumont's films, either in their style or their content, for the work of another director. Needless to say, this is not a negative.

Visually striking, emotionally jarring, Flandres vies with Twentynine Palms as the director's most visceral work. In tracing the character arc of Demester (Samuel Boidin) from inarticulate farmboy, who can't or won't acknowledge his feelings for his lover Barbe (Adelaide Leroux), through soldier passing through the horrors of war, and ultimately to a man capable of saying "Je t'aime" (the film's final words), Flandres may be the most satisfying of Dumont's four films. As the director explained, the whole 90 minutes are leading up to the moment when Demester is able to say "I love you." Flandres is not to be missed.

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