Bruno Dumont – France (2021)

Lawrence Garcia, Cinemascope wrote:
In the seven years since P’tit Quinquin, it has become impossible to continue tagging Bruno Dumont with the longstanding clichés of Bresson criticism. Epithets like “ascetic,” “severe,” “punishing”—already limited descriptors of his first two works, La vie de Jésus (1997) and L’humanité (1999)—have only become more obviously incapable of describing Dumont’s recent films, from the carnivalesque contortions of Ma Loute (2016) to the musical extremes of his Jeanne d’Arc movies. Still, as Dumont’s methods (particularly his increasingly frequent use of professionals alongside non-actors) have ostensibly moved away from those of Bresson, the deeper affinities between the two filmmakers have only become clearer. More effectively than did Camille Claudel 1915 (2013), Ma Loute demonstrated that the affective qualities of Bresson’s “involuntarily expressive models” and the high camp of a Juliette Binoche or Fabrice Luchini are not irreconcilable extremes so much as alternate angles of approach to the same fundamental questions. Now, with France—a film quite literally anchored by Léa Seydoux, playing celebrity TV journalist France de Meurs—Dumont has chosen an ideal milieu in which to explore this principle.

Despite appearances, though, France is not a satire of the contemporary media landscape—or, insofar as it functions as one, it is not terribly interesting. An early scene that sees France digitally inserted into a Macron press conference, trading mimed sex acts with her assistant before asking the president about the “insurrectional state of French society,” is lightly amusing, but hardly indicative of the film to follow. Likewise, when France inadvertently injures a motorcyclist (Jewad Zemmar) with her car, the accident does not become the film’s central incident as we might expect, but simply takes its place as just one crisis among many.


There is in this moment a conviction that runs throughout all of Dumont: that no secondary context (narrative, historical, or otherwise), however violent or extreme, can ultimately determine one’s presentness to a person or event. Again like Bresson, Dumont is often charged with putting his characters through arbitrary stations of the cross, thereby affirming the so-called metaphysical absurd. But what one often ends up feeling at the conclusion of his films is that it is our own sense of narrative expectation and desire for coherence that is absurd. Seen in this way, the undeniably shocking endings of Twentynine Palms (2003) or Hadewijch (2009), like the car crash here, are not meant to just provoke us or convey some vague sense of ultimate meaninglessness. Rather, they are meant to push us past the arbitrary strangeness of cause and effect in order to see the irreducible strangeness of presence—again, not the mystery of how things are, but that they are. “Only the present remains. Here and now,” France says towards the end of the film, in a reunion as surprising, as inevitable, as the one at the close of Pickpocket (1959); “Forget all expectations.” And as Dumont pushes into a close-up of Seydoux one final time, we are reminded that presentness is grace.

3.39GB | 2h 13m | 1920×1080 | mkv

Subtitles:Portuguese (hard),English

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