THE LIFE OF JESUS

 (La Vie de Jesus)

Directed by Bruno Dumont. 1997.


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Dumont’s debut is a controversial and provocative film and misleading from the start, the title suggests something with regards to religion iconography but there is no character resembling Him and the film is as much about France’s ever apparent xenophobia that in recent times has become apparent, but here in 1997 it is quietly simmering.

The film is as much about isolation, it is set in a small French town, Bailleul but not far away from Lille (as one character mentions in passing) by train.  The isolation breeds into desperation (‘Bailleul. Lille. It’s still the same. What’s the difference?’) set about by loneliness. Freddy and Marie (David Douche and Marjorie Cottreel) are our leading couple who are happily together and appear to be the only sexually active couple in the town.  But Freddy has four male friends who all ride bikes, and they seem to suppress the young couple’s relationship, they are fighting Marie for Freddy’s attention.

There are quiet, still thoughtful moments that sandwich moments of high expression and emotion – most notably in the sex scenes that are raw and treated with a degree of frankness and intimacy.  The quiet of the French countryside is abused by the roar of motor engines from cars and motorbikes. For a debut feature there are exhilarating camerawork, you can feel the breeze off the screen and the sound mixing is well done also. The bike is treated as a parable for the young men; from a bike they go to the car which is indicative of the future, so they are moving on and eventually (hopefully) moving away.

Ultimately, Freddy does a terrible crime and this ruins his life, his relationship with Marie and breaks his doting mother’s heart.  Although it is a bad advert for police department (Freddy just gets up and walks out), at the end he resembles a lost puppy – young, petulant and alone with just the world to look at.

Bruno Dumont’s debut feature which won the Camera D’Or at Cannes, is being reissued by Eureka in their Masters of Cinema series, set for release on 21 July at £19.99.

Jamie Garwood


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La Vie de Jesus, a film by Bruno Dumont, is an unconventional look at marginal young people living in Bailleul in northern France. They spend their time without much purpose, riding around the drab Flanders town on motorbikes or playing in a marching band. One of Dumont's greatest strengths is the uncanny ability to capture the sense of emptiness of the town and the people who inhabit it. With little dialogue and no musical score other than the sounds of nature to break the stillness, we are forced to relate to the characters by observing their eyes, their physical movements, and the facial expressions that reveal an inner pain. 

In La Vie de Jesus, unemployed, uneducated, and epileptic 20-year old Freddy (David Douche) lives with his mother Yvette (Genevieve Cottreel), a café owner. Douche gives a haunting performance as the sensitive but not very bright Freddy, his body scarred from repeated falls from his motorcycle and his face mirroring the fear of not knowing when his next epileptic seizure will come. Freddy has a girl friend, Marie (Marjorie Cottreel), who works as a cashier at the supermarket but their relationship lacks an emotional pull and their graphically depicted sex feels mechanical. Dumont does not judge his characters and they are fully three-dimensional, both guilty and innocent, displaying tenderness one minute and cruelty the next, searching for human connection. Freddy trains his finch to sing and takes the boy who just lost his brother to the beach to cheer him up, yet shortly afterwards he and his friends humiliate an overweight girl who plays in the band. 

One of the most moving scenes takes place at a hospital where the friends stand around a hospital bed watching one of the boys' brother who is dying of Aids. On the wall there is a picture of Jesus described as "about a guy who comes back to life". They do not talk but wait and watch silently and we wait with them as if expecting momentary redemption. Freddy and his friends are not "bad" people but each one is tightly wound, looking for a reason to explode and the film seethes with tension. When a young Arab boy Kader (Kader Chaatouf) foolishly tempts fate by making a play for Marie, the underlying racism of the society transforms an ordinary love story into a tragedy of transcendent power.
 

Howard Schumann

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