Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
L’HUMANITÉ (1999) and CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915 (2013)
Bruno Dumont’s second film, L’Humanité, has a lot in common with his first: there’s death and predation in rural northern France, there are incredibly awkward sex scenes, there’s even a mysterious vehicle driving manically through the sleepy northern French town. What starts out with all the familiar trappings of a murder mystery tale – a girl has been murdered, and it’s up to our protagonist detective to figure out who did it – turns into something far more sedate and low-key. The film won three awards at Cannes, including the Grand Prix, and cemented Dumont as a filmmaker to watch. But despite his recurrent themes, he’s not afraid to mix it up, as you’ll see when you put on your second film for the evening: Camille Claudel 1915. Almost everything about this film is the inverse of what we’d seen from him up to this point: it’s a true story, it’s a period film, it features professional actors, he even makes it in the south of France. And yet it’s still recognisably Dumont, intimate and intense. Juliette Binoche plays the famed sculptor Claudel during her time in a psychiatric hospital in Neuilly-sur-Marne. The type of gear-shift Dumont takes at this point in his career seems to signal a more experimental and diverse phase, one that seems him eager to explore different genres and themes. Watch these two films back-to-back and you’ll be able to match wits with even the most hardened Dumont devotee.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen L’Humanité, seek out La Vie De Jesus (1997). Dumont’s debut feature centres on a young man with limited options in life, and the ways in which he takes it out on the world around him. If you can’t get or have already seen Camille Claudel 1915, get your hands on Ma Loute (2016). Again teaming with Binoche, Dumont crafts an absurdist comedy more akin to Laurel and Hardy or Jacques Tati than Ken Loach. It’s a film worth seeing just to confirm it exists, because if anyone described it to you, you’d doubt it was real.
The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Bruno Dumont? Then you should track down Hadewijch (2009). The only Dumont film set in a city, Hadewijch follows a young girl whose fanatical devotion to Christ sees her expelled from a nunnery for going too far. Returning to her family in Paris, she finds herself drawn to the teachings of an Islamic extremist. It’s a bold film, and one that marks the preoccupation that atheist Dumont has with the effect of all religion.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring David Caesar talking the films of Bruno Dumont, will be released on 28 February 2019.