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Interview with Bruno Dumont - Director of The Life of Jesus
20 October 1997
By David Walsh on

David Walsh: Why did you choose this title?

Bruno Dumont: The title came before, of course. It's not the kind of title you choose afterward. I had the desire to tell the life of Jesus. Not to repeat what everybody knows. It is the significance of that life that interests me. I invented a story to regenerate the meaning, to show that there is a humanism in Christianity that they don't teach in the Church, in the schools. It is concerned with the power of man. I think that man has power. Man is elevated. At the same time, I think that man is also very base, like Freddy. I think that his life is suffering, pain, sadness, love, joy, sex. Evil is a part of life. It is necessary to confront it. Perhaps in that confrontation man can raise himself.

DW: What is the role of sexuality in your film?

BD: I think it's very, very important. The body is the cause of everything. Before thinking, there is the body. Sexuality, the desire of the other, is something very mysterious. When you make love, for example, when Freddy enters Marie, there is the possibility of their joining. Yet in the sexuality of man and woman there is something profoundly tragic. When one makes love, there is pleasure in this sexual release, but one makes the same face as when one is in pain. Someone who enjoys this release is also someone who suffers.

DW: Do the youth in France think they have a future?

BD: I tried to represent in the youth a kind of idleness, boredom, the youth that I feel is a bit lost. At the same time I believe that it holds the future in its hands. It must be capable of inventing its own future. I often feel in the encounters that one has with the youth a kind of despair. It is this despair that one must combat.

DW: The film is not pessimistic.

BD: No, I think it is very black, very somber, but at the same time it arrives at the end at a glimmer of light. I think this glimmer is in the people who watch it. The film is not important, it only lasts an hour and a half. It is nothing. What's important is the person who watches it. He continues to live. Perhaps in this darkness he will see the glimmer, but I stopped, finally at the moment when the glimmer appears. I'm not a prophet, it is not for me to say anything, it is for people to do something.

Cinema is not reality. Reality does not interest me. What interests me is its unveiling.

DW: What do you think of the contemporary French cinema?

BD: I think that is a cinema that is very cerebral, very talky; a cinema that has lost touch with life. What interests me is life, people, the small things. Cinema is for the body, for the emotions. It needs to be restored among the ordinary people, who don't speak a lot, but who experience an incredible intensity of joy, emotion, suffering, sympathy in death. They don't speak, speaking is not important. What's important is the emotions. It is for the spectator to make these things conscious, it is not for me to do it. The spectator must think. He has a lot of work to do. The power of cinema lies in the return of man to the body, to the heart, to truth. The man of the people has a truth that the man of the city, the intellectual, has lost. Freddy has something that I've lost, that I must find again, I don't know what exactly. I find that our culture, our civilization, has failed politically, socially, morally.

DW: Do you admire any living filmmakers?

BD: No, dead ones. I have a great admiration for the great filmmakers, for the poets; those who made of cinema a true art, cinema of poetry. I think of Bresson, Pasolini, Rossellini, people like that. When I leave that sort of film I don't know what to think. It takes me a long time to work over. The hour and a half in the cinema is not the end. Kiarostami is a great master. These films nourish me for days, for years. Films that try to be spectacular, afterward, they leave you nothing

DW: Why do you make films?

BD: For that reason, to live. That is to say, not for money, but to make sense of things. To approach people, to reach people, to bring myself closer to them, to search: to live.

DW: Are you religious?

BD: I'm not a believer, but it fascinates me. I don't believe in heaven. I believe that the story of Christ is one of the most beautiful poetic expressions of the human tragedy. I believe in it like I believe in a poem. I believe in the frescoes of Giotto, the Passion of Bach. Christ is merely a means of expression. Painting interests me a great deal. In Flemish painting Christ is a peasant, he is a man of the people. This is not the royal Christ, etc. Christ is an ordinary man. So in my film I tell the story of a man. A small man who lives, who takes the same road. What counts in life is to ascend from where one is. Without the title, the film loses something. It is a very mystical film. Film has the power to touch something mysterious in the body, its secrets.