#211: The Life of Jesus (1997)

Jesus wept

An unflinching portrait of thwarted emotions and small-town tedium, The Life of Jesus (La Vie de Jésus) is a luminous and disconcerting feature debut from philosophy teacher turned director Bruno Dumont.

There are some beautiful, indelible moments in The Life of Jesus, which follows around our mopey anti-hero Freddy (David Douche). We see him gently lay his head on wallflower girlfriend Marie’s shoulder (Marjorie Cottreel), after they have animalistic sex. Marie quietly smiles at him, triggering Dumont to pan out of the pair’s moment of intimacy and look at the bigger picture and uncultivated landscape the pair find themselves prisoners of.

Such tender moments are like respites in the storm at the centre of this very unsettling film. Twenty year old Freddy and his unemployed roustabout pals are the poster boys for the disenchanted youth. They have no ambition and no prospects, and there doesn’t appear to be a role model of any description for several hundred miles in any direction. Freddy spends his schedule-free days trolling around the Northern French town of Bailleul on the back of noisy motor scooters. Going from one indeterminable destination to the next, he mixes the dreary days with even drearier, expedient sex with Marie, which Dumont stages in the most raw and unerotic ways imaginable. But small-term excitement strikes the players when Kader (Kader Chaatouf), a handsome young Arab, starts pursuing Marie, she warns him that her boyfriend and his thuggish mates will make trouble for him. Unable to quash his advances, the local boys set themselves on a hunt for Kader. It gives them a purpose to cause havoc on the streets, albeit a hateful and malicious one.

The indelibly slow pace and minimal plot underscore the emptiness in the lives of Dumont’s characters, though the unrelenting bleakness of the story and detestation to virtually everyone on screen will leave audiences uneasy and perhaps even angry; never presented with a character we can feel an emotional attachment with, or benevolence like the wryly sardonic film title would suggest. Freddie walks around physically and emotionally wounded throughout but we merely see his pain instead of feeling it. Such a lack of emotional development could be excused if this character wasn’t so insipid.

Filmed in the province where he grew up, Dumont chose to cast local non-professional actors. This proves to be The Life of Jesus’ downfall, as none of the actors present are able to be compelling. Freddy’s pals seem as threatening as the rest of the humble village folk, objectified desire symbol Marjorie Cottreel looks genuinely uncomfortable and exploited. Worst of all, with his inexpressive face and wooden movement, Douche perfectly captures the film’s sense of ennui, but he remains a distant figure throughout; leading to the film’s implosive ending, which is laughable rather than heart wrenching.

Sitting uncomfortably between the meditative direction of Robert Bresson and the lower class stoicism of Belgian neighbours The Dardenne Brothers, Dumont suggests that he does have the natural eye for pure cinema. This is not that film. The Life of Jesus certainly manages to deliver an uncompromising view of bored youth, but the experience is wholly depressing, and only the most patient art-house audiences will appreciate the Dumont’s occasional cinematic grace which transcends the grim proceedings.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

The Life of Jesus is available everywhere. Get on it.

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#184: Chacun son Cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema) (2007)

Take to your seats.

Presented at the glitzy 60th Cannes Film Festival in 2007, Chacun son Cinéma is an unsurprisingly tumultuous omnibus feature. With 34 three minute shorts shorts from 36 directors, it also feels a bit too crowbarred for a single 100-minute presentation.

With festival director Gilles Jacob challenging each director to create a short which somehow describes “their state of mind of the moment as inspired by the motion picture theatre, it’s fascinating to see these international auteur’s explore their devotion to cinema restricted to a measly time restraint. With little time for exposition or pretty much anything else, I was hoping for pure cinema, but instead I got 34 short homage films featuring cinema halls. Close, but no Croisette.

There’s a great deal of shorts to like here. Brazil’s Walter Salles’ 5,557 Miles From Cannes is at tuneful riff on Cannes elitism. Canadian visionary David Cronenberg morosely explores the futile future of cinema in mini-dystopia flick At the Suicide of the Last Jew In the World In The Last Cinema In the World. Italy’s answer to Woody Allen, Nanni Moretti produces a narrative commentary about his movie-watching history in Diary of a Spectator, which is both breezy and informative. And China’s Wong Kar-Wai’s luscious I Travelled 9000km to Give It To You presents the director’s love for cinema in a sexy new, beautifully coloured light. Oooh, I almost forgot Kiarostami’s Where is My Romeo?; even when given just three minutes, he can still churn out an allegorical mini masterpiece.

Expectedly, when the turkeys do come, they come gobbling. David Lynch’s uninspiringly mysterious Absurda is, even for the master of modern suspense, completely trite. Then there’s France’s most forgiven child molester Roman Polanski pain inducing attempt at comedy with Cinema Erotique. Above and beyond, the worst of them all comes from Britain’s most overrated filmmaker, ‘socio-realist’ Ken Loach’s Happy Ending, a frustrating and superfluous father and son tale starring Bradley Walsh. BRADLEY FUCKING WALSH!

The subheading of the programme translates roughly as Or That Thrill When The Lights Dim And The Movie Begins. Although these projects may come from a passionate place, there’s not a lot of love or willingness to thrill in the projects individually. There’s also no space (or, let’s face it, time) to represent the artistic license which these lauded directors have accumulated over their career’s.

An exercise in industry back-patting, Chacun son Cinéma attempts to present the world’s film artist arsenal in all it’s glory, but ends up feeling like a lightweight pet-project. Still, as far as omnibus movies go, it’s much better than Paris Je t’aimeBut then again, so is everything.

As an overall, 100 minute film….

★★★☆☆

IMDb it.

ADMIN –
If you were interested, here’s details on all 33 shorts, with individual star scores out of six. A lot of them can found on YouTube.

OPEN-AIR CINEMA- Raymond Depardon – 2/6
ONE FINE DAY- Takeshi Kitten – 3/6
THREE MINUTES- Theo Angelopoulos – 5/6
IN THE DARK- Andrei Konchalovsky  – 5/6
DIARY OF A SPECTATOR – Nanni Moretti – 5/6
THE ELECTRIC PRINCESS HOUSE- Hou Hsiao-Hsien – 2/6
DARKNESS- Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 3/6
WORLD CINEMA – The Coen Brothers – 5/6
ANNA- Alejandro González Iñárritu – 3/6
ABSURDA – David Lynch– 1/6
MOVIE NIGHT- Zhang Yimou – 4/6
THE DYBBUK OF HAIFA- Amos Gitai – 2/6
THE LADY BUG- Jane Campion – 1/6
ARTAUD DOUBLE BILL –Atom Egoyan – 3/6
THE FOUNDARY- Aki Kaurismäki – 2/6
UPSURGE –Olivier Assayas – 2/6
47 years later- Youssef Chahine – 1/6
IT’S A DREAM- Tsai Ming-Ling – 2/6
OCCUPATIONS- Lars Von Trier – 3/6
THE GIFT- Raul Ruiz – 4/6
THE CINEMA AROUND THE CORNER- Claude Lelouch – 2/6
FIRST KISS- Gus Van Sant – 1/6
CINEMA EROTIQUE- Roman Polanski – 1/6
NO TRANSLATION NEEDED- Michael Cimino – 2/6
AT THE SUICIDE OF THE LAST JEW IN THE WORLD IN THE LAST CINEMA IN
THE WORLD David Cronenberg – 5/6
I TRAVELLED 9000 KM TO GIVE IT TO YOU –Wong Kar Wai – 5/6
WHERE IS MY ROMEO? –Abbas Kiarostami – 5/6
THE LAST DATING SHOW- Bille August – 1/6
IRTEBAK – Elia Suleiman – 2/6
SOLE MEETING –Manoel De Oliveira – 1/6
5.557 MILES FROM CANNES – Walter Salles – 6/6
WAR IN PEACE –Wim Wenders – 2/6
ZHANXIOU VILLAGE- Chen Kaige – 3/6
HAPPY ENDING- Ken Loach – 0/6