Flandres (2006)

11 06 2008

Another aesthetic step forward for Bruno Dumont but emotionally, he seems to be standing still. When a film is so well-crafted as this is, that is no problem, but this is indeed “more of the same” from Dumont. Fortunately for him, I am pretty content with his current cinematic position and if nothing more, Flandres is a perfect example as to why he is easily one of the best younger director working today. All this acclamation sounds a little tame, but rest assured, the film is a masterpiece and another Dumont experience likely to cause late nights of pondering.

Demester is a simple, hardworking farmhand living in rural France. From time to time, he goes for a (literal) roll in the hay with Barbe, who is, for lack of a better term, the local slut. Demester loves her, but is unable to express this. Things get even more complicated when Barbe begins to spend more time with Blondel. This problem is eventually “solved” in a sense, when Blondel and Demester are called up to fight in an unknown war. Stripped from both of her lovers, Barbe begins to lose touch with real world.

It is a shame that Dumont, once again, uses non-professionals. The problem is not that the performance are bad, it’s actually the opposite. Watching this film just provided another opportunity for me to look up the IMDB profiles of these wonderful performers and see that they have absolutely no projects in the pipe. In other words, everyone here is quite excellence. Even the sequences of Barbe going insane are handled wonderfully by both the actress, Adélaïde Leroux and Dumont’s camera. Considering just how violent and grotesque some of the narrative’s events are, it is to Dumont’s enormous credit that every sequence comes off so naturally.

On the other hand, it is the exact same sequences of violent that lead to the very minute problems I have with Flandres. To be frank, when is Dumont going to move out of this one-note cinema of “shocking, cynical European minimalism.” While it is very much a big deal to be considered alongside directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or Michael Haneke, it is also very limiting. Both of those directors have gone on to do films beyond that mold and more often that not, those films turned out to be some of their best efforts. In contrast, I believe that Tsai Ming-Liang’s films occupy the perfect middle ground between the two minimalist groups: the tamer one being the films of Ozu (and his peers) and Hou and the more “out-there” group being people like Haneke and Dumont. Obviously, I tend to prefer the former approach as it is inherently more down-to-earth. Essentially, my only problem with Dumont’s cinematic universe is the fact that it is too one-note, bleak, and cynical to the point that it begins to muddle his brilliance. Of course, this is looking far ahead. Flandres, itself, is one of Dumont’s greatest cinematic achievements.

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2 responses

12 06 2008
Darren

I’ve only seen Flandres once — nearly two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it played amidst so many exceptional films that it didn’t leave too strong a mark on me. I need to watch it again. Working from those sketchy memories, though, I wonder if the end of the film does actually represent a fairly significant departure for Dumont? There appears to be a genuine reconciliation and affection between Demester and Barbe in those final images. Their relationship is deeply scarred and problematic, of course, but there also seems to be something like love between them.

12 06 2008
Jake Savage

Yes! In fact, parts of the film actually seemed like something David Gordon Green would do. I guess the war stuff is sort of like Dumont’s version of The Thin Red Line, which would further reinforce the connection. If Dumont is going off to do strictly “complicated relationships” type of films then that is fine with me. In fact, I’d be super excited if he was.

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