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Bruno Dumont • Director of France

"The idea is to find beauty in the present without eliminating the turpitude of human nature"

by 

- The French filmmaker explains his latest film which was unveiled in competition in Cannes and is released in French cinemas today

Bruno Dumont • Director of France

Marking his 4th selection in competition in Cannes, France [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile
]
by Bruno Dumont left critics wholly divided but, thankfully, the former philosophy teacher isn’t the type to seek unanimity. We met with him on the Croisette the day after the world premiere of his film which is released in French cinemas today via ARP Sélection.

Cineuropa: After Jeannette, The Childhood of Joan of Arc [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile
]
and Joan of Arc [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile
]
, why make a film about modern-day France?
Bruno Dumont:
Jeannette and Joan of Arc involved diving into the world of poetry, the Middle Ages and the mindset of an author, Charles Péguy, which also felt like an interesting way of getting a handle on modernity. That’s why France was called On A Half Clear Morning for such a long time, but it’s not an adaptation. I wrote the screenplay based on a meeting with Léa Seydoux. We both wanted to work with one another. What I liked about her was the fact that, on the one hand, she’s a film star, but, on the other, she really isn’t, because she’s straightforward, nice, funny and natural. Everything the character of France says and does is in keeping with the spirit of Péguy and that tendency to ignore the lure of days to come, to only be interested in the present, to be a little bit disenchanted. I chose the media world because I needed a contemporary theme, and that field is modernity through and through. But the media world isn’t of any particular interest to me. We’re all familiar with the criticism directed towards the media, and what I’m going to say doesn’t add anything to the argument. What I’m interested in is France; getting inside this character who’s her own world, but who ends up detaching herself from it.

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France seems to be the living embodiment of cynicism: is this a way of protecting her vulnerability or is it a necessity in her environment?
She’s cynical because it’s a cynical profession with a huge mismatch between the industry’s demand for a return and for audiences, and the consciousness and nobility of the field. Cynicism is this "on the record" and "off the record" thing that we’re continually hearing. The media have totally ejected everything that’s "off the record": it’s all beautiful, clean, hygienic. That’s what’s cynical: France smiles when the camera flashes, but, behind all that, she’s laughing. But that cynicism is the way of things today, it’s not her own. She wises up to it, because she’s a very humane person: she’s the world she moves around in, but she’s also a way of moving beyond it. Some journalists are totally alienated by the system because they take the form of their function, but not everyone has to do this.

What type of balance were you hoping to strike between the development of the character of France and her representation of an entity: the country of France?
What I’m interested in is exploring human nature. That’s why the character is totally exaggerated: she cries all the time, her apartment and car are fake. I don’t portray the truth of this world; it’s a metamorphosis, but within a world where you find real people. And she’s called France, so she’s very suggestive. She’s very French because in France we’re continually looking to find out who we really are. At the same time, she remains a mystery because she’s highly complex, psychologically speaking. I didn’t want to simplify her; she’s not black or white, she’s grey. I don’t depict her as a saint: she doesn’t give up journalism in the end, because you have to persevere and move up within your field, even if only a little, and do your best. It’s not about starting out in the desert with a lamb hauled over your shoulder. That’s Péguy through and through: finding beauty in the present without eliminating the turpitude of human nature.

What do you think about the possible misunderstandings which might arise from the satirical side of the film combined with your real interest, metaphysical questionings?
I’ve lent the film complexity, but you could just as easily look at it on the surface level and tell yourself that it’s flat, appalling. etc. I’ve always made films like that: I include lots of elements and make a point of not resolving anything. Otherwise, I’d have to bring it all back to the centre and get involved in an aesthetic which I really don’t like. I love France’s complexity and I find that people either pick up on it or they don’t; that some people understand the metamorphosis very well while others take it literally, but that’s down to the viewer, it’s no longer under my control. I don’t want to force anything, I think that film is a mirror, that people see themselves within it, that they see what they are. I want to preserve mystery, complexity and depth rather than explaining everything to my audience, telling them what’s good and what’s bad. I won’t ever change that. I refuse to standardise my work and to spoon-feed audiences. The real question revolves around caricature and satire. There are people who are capable of understanding things beyond the literal level, but they’re wrong: the digital world has flattened the various levels of perception, there’s only one level now. We have to question this new, digital way of thinking, which actually has a lot wrong with it. When you look at what’s going on in the digital world, you see that all those little screens offer up films, cut and edited pictures, so it’s fiction. But you can also make truth out of fiction. It’s just like my film: it’s intentionally untrue but it represents something which is true.

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(Translated from French)

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