How Bruno Dumont’s Cinema Gives Flesh to Philosophy

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Jun 21, 2019


The thirty-nine-year-old Bruno Dumont shook up French cinema with his 1997 feature debut, La vie de Jésus, an unsettling story of teenage disaffection in the country’s sleepy northern countryside. A relative latecomer to narrative filmmaking, the director—whose second feature, L’humanité, a no less provocative tale centering around an alienated police detective, would become a prizewinner at Cannes just two years later—was nonetheless no stranger to the process of putting together a movie. In the above clip, taken from a supplemental interview on our brand-new edition of La vie de Jésus, Dumont explains how his experience making industrial films, a field in which he’d worked starting in the mideighties, gave him the cinematographic assurance to realize his first feature’s gritty immediacy. As the director, a former philosophy professor, also says here, writing and filming Jésus allowed him to mobilize ideas he’d developed about the human condition—some of which were inspired by Ernest Renan, whose influential 1863 biography gave the movie its title—without having to resort to the abstractions of pure intellectualism. The rigorous practice Dumont established with his debut would soon carry over to the transcendent L’humanité, our brand-new edition of which is also available now.