Designing Dumont

Inside Criterion / Criterion Designs — Jun 20, 2019

When French auteur Bruno Dumont emerged on the film-festival circuit at the end of the 1990s with his debut feature, La vie de Jésus, and his Cannes-award-winning international breakthrough L’humanité, he immediately polarized audiences with his pitiless vision of human brutality. But there’s nothing simple or one-dimensional about Dumont’s provocations; as in the work of one of his main influences, Robert Bresson, the violence on display is shot through with glimmers of transcendence, tenderness, and compassion.

The tension between these elements isn’t easy to capture on a Blu-ray/DVD cover, but San Francisco–based artist Vivienne Flesher was up to the challenge. She had previously collaborated with us on our edition of The Naked Island and is adept at a number of styles and mediums, both as a fine artist and as an illustrator with a roster of clients ranging from Target to the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Her paintings create a sense of simultaneous calm and agitation, and we knew that she could bring that same clash of moods to the artwork for our Dumont releases.

Though we were commissioning separate covers, the goal was to produce a pair of illustrations that would be unified by Flesher’s style and also speak to each other in a dynamic way. One film would be represented in close-up while the other would be captured from a far-off angle, so that together the covers could convey Dumont’s balance of intense corporeal intimacy and contemplative long shots. For La vie de Jésus, Flesher adapted the recurring image of the shiftless young protagonist leaning against a wall, exuding irrepressible rage. For L’humanité, we chose a pivotal early scene that determines the entire course of the film and had inspired Lorenzo Mattotti’s original poster.

Flesher then took this preliminary direction and went to work, starting with elements of her paintings (some of which were preexisting), then layering and manipulating those elements through Photoshop. It’s a mysterious process for her, consisting of a lot of tweaking and adjusting, and over the years, she’s found that digital technology has allowed her to achieve surprising textures and effects. But because it’s hard to predict what she’ll come up with, she doesn’t tend to share sketches with clients beforehand. When she was finished experimenting, she shared several options, and we selected the pair of images that best evoked the grim beauty of Dumont’s uncompromising work.