The Editions Dis Voir publication, Bruno Dumont, opens with a short chapter entitled The Work of a Filmmaker that seems to characterize Dumont’s films within the context of the distinctive cinema of Robert Bresson. Through referential allusion to the informal, fragmented passages of Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer, Dumont’s artistic methodology, similarly captured in kernelled reflections, is distilled into a series of essential statements and musings on the filmmaking process:
The body is the beginning of the soul, the primal matter and the substance of filmmaking.
Literature is civil, not cinema. Cinema is mythical. It tells the story of how we came to be. That is all (nothing more).
Directing has to implicate itself in the most visionary position, one I find to be so close to ecstasy.
Incompleteness is what resides in nature. Cinema can return to it.
In the essay, Poetics of Fatality, Sébastien Ors defines Dumont’s films as a dynamic interrelationship between society and individual, natural order and laws of civilization. Citing Freddy’s uncontrollable seizures in Life of Jesus (1997) and Pharaon’s “slowness” in L’Humanité (1999), the author presents the characters’ defects (even impotence) as singular, unique physical attributes that sharpen their senses. It is this realization of one’s sense of place that consequently, render the characters closer to nature and, inevitably, to the transcendent realization that humanity is “the sacred part in the human being.”
The sacred is at the heart of man, not in the heart or chancel of the churches, nor in the sky that Kadar looks at, placing his faith in Marie, and where Freddy surrenders, seeking to appease his remorse.
Two interviews with Dumont, Philippe Tancelin’s Enquiries on Reality and photographer Valérie Jouve’s Dialogue in Space and Time provide insight into the director’s creative process, themes, and visual style. On Tancelin’s observation of the spareness of his films, Dumont responds:
Emptiness may be the condition necessary for the audience to change. Violence, cruelty, roughness are also regressions, a return to something primary to alter the sophistication in which we live today. That is why I choose rustic people. And my characters are so expressive because they are all unfinished. They are expressive in contact with the bodies and minds of the audience because the audience completes them. I must be drawn to this roughness. It is the shapeless matter placed in front of the spectator’s face.
The dialogue between Jouve and Dumont further illustrates the underlying concept behind the aesthetic of assimilating still photography into Dumont’s definition of a cinematic shot:
VJ: But you use images. In Humanity, there are times when everything stops, and it is no longer just a still shot but a still image.
BD: Yet for it to stop, it has to move. Otherwise it cannot move. I look for a rhythm in order to break it. Like having an airplane pass overhead in order to hear the silence that follows. You really need noise to hear it, otherwise silence cannot be perceived even if there is silence.
Acquarello, 2002 [reprinted]