The IFI French Film Festival
Tuesday, 22nd November 2011

The Life of Jesus

(La Vie de Jésus)

The Prix Jean Vigo 60th Anniversay special programme of the IFI French Festival included the 1997 winner The Life of Jesus (La Vie de Jésus), Bruno Dumont’s debut feature, which screened on Tuesday. Working with a cast of non-professionals, Dumont crafts a harrowing portrait of adolescent frustration. David Douche plays Freddy, a teenager living with his Mother in a tiny Flemish country town. Lack of communication and an inability to express emotion is a major theme in the film and this begins with his Mother from the outset as she shows more care about the news than she ever seems to about him.

Life seems to be draining out of Freddy, whose epileptic fits pepper his insubstantial life of boredom. Freddy’s attempts at escaping his eternal ennui are marked by frustration and failure: he plays in the local brass band – but seems to be forever playing a funeral march; he looks after his pet finch – but it is depressingly jailed in its covered cage; he motor bikes with a group of oafish friends – but through desolate, achingly flat scenery and frequent crashes; and shares a relationship with Marie – but fails to communicate either physically or emotionally with her, engaging in empty conversation and mechanical, passionless sex.

Freddy constantly crashes from his motorbike and the cuts and bruises of his outer shell reflect his inner turmoil. His rage is obvious as he kicks against walls and the film makes clear he is wrestling internally with the ordinary demons of his everyday existence that will ultimately seal his tragic fate. When Kader, an Arab boy, enters proceedings and becomes involved with Marie, Freddy’s inability to deal with events takes on a disturbing turn as his frustration boils over into violence.

All of this is caught by Dumont’s emotionally distant camera, often employing extreme long shots in which his subjects appear lost on a canvas of bleak, open landscapes emphasizing their chronic sense of alienation. Dumont’s film remains a powerful, intense experience, 15 years after its release.

Gérald Hustache-Mathieu’s noirish thriller Nobody Else but You (Poupoupidou) played out its twists and turns later that that evening with its tale of the investigation of a Marilyn Monroe figure in small-town France, and was followed by Pater. Directed by Alain Cavalier, Pater sees Cavalier and French actor Vincent Lindon playing versions of themselves working on a film within the film. In the film within the film, Cavalier casts himself as President of the Republic and Lindon as Prime minister. OK, lets start again…

Steven Galvin

Pater screens again on Wednesday, 23rd November at 16.00


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