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Bruno Dumont • Director

"Real arthouse film is a kind of film that brings you face to face with the other"


- Bruno Dumont talks about different cultures, evil, and his new film Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc, a musical comedy about the childhood of Joan of Arc

Bruno Dumont  • Director
(© Doha Film Institute)

UPDATE (24 May 2017): The film has just screened in the 49th Directors' Fortnight at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

At the Doha Film Institute’s Qumra event, French director Bruno Dumont talked to us about his next film, Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc [+see also:
film review
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile
, which he already has ready. This musical comedy on the childhood of Joan of Arc will be released in television format (distributed by Arte) and in a format for the big screen. The director will also be teaming up with Arte again this summer to film the second season of his hit series Li'l Quinquin [+see also:
film review
film profile
, entitled Coincoin et les z’inhumains, which will centre around the encounter between our little hero and extraterrestrials who invade the North of France. 

Cineuropa: Can you talk to us a bit about Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc?
Bruno Dumont: It’s the adaptation of a play by Charles Péguy. It tells the story of Joan of Arc right from her childhood up to her burning at the stake, but I focus solely on her childhood. Most films centre around an older Joan of Arc, but I was interested in little Joan of Arc: in how someone who kept sheep and led a very simple life, who was very sensitive to the issue of poverty in the world and damnation, who pondered very theological issues, would go on to suddenly become the military arm of God to shoo away the bad guys who were, at the time, the English. To do this, I chose to make a musical comedy, which is sung entirely with just a few dialogues. I asked Igorrr, a composer of electronic music, to do the score, which is very modern, very post-rock and even a bit metal. The choreographer Philippe Decouflé put the dances together. It’s a new kind of film that I’d never made before. And I shot it with live sound. Usually, with this genre of film, the sound is always added in afterwards, but I didn’t want to do that, I wanted the actors to really be singing. The film is also shot entirely by non-professionals.

You’re participating in Qumra this year for the first time. What drew you to it?
First of all, I have always been attracted to faraway things. It really unsettles me, because it’s nonetheless a physical experience. It’s awe-inspiring. You have to travel to put what you think into perspective, to get to know the other and look at the other, to understand its opinion. It forces us to see and do things differently. It’s a wake up call that stops you from being arrogant and thinking that the West is what culture is all about. 

Quite rightly, you’ve already shown some of the links between the West and the Arab world in your films (Flanders [+see also:
film review
film profile
Hadewijch [+see also:
film profile
). What is it about this subject that interests you?
I’m French, so what I’m interested in is thinking about the world around me. As a French filmmaker, my job is to make French films, to portray French civilisation as best I can. And French society has a relationship with the Muslim world, most notably because it has a colonial history that connects it to those countries. It’s clear that it’s a recurring subject in political debate: it’s part of our lives. As I’m someone who likes broaching the subject of evil, I have to portray it. The problem is that it’s always the other! Every country has an enemy. That’s how we are: we need enemies. I try to tell little stories, on a completely local level, about everyday people. They’re not geopolitical reflections. I can’t paint a general picture, as it doesn’t exist. But film is an extraordinary way of entering into someone’s culture. You see how people live in countries all over the world, stories that a very intimate, about life, love, sex and death. Real arthouse film is a kind of film that brings you face to face with the other.

In your films, you talk about evil, which, in these times we live in, seems to be cropping up everywhere (politics, social hate, etc.).
There’s not that much, just the same amount as always. You could say that the forms of evil are new. It’s been like that since the days of Sophocles’ writings. Theft, lies, incest, murder, love. We haven’t invented anything new. The problem is always the other, because they’re not different, because they want to take my land, because they want to take my wife. That’s what we’re like, warriors, it’s part of human nature.

Do you also touch on this in Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc?
Yes, of course. Joan of Arc is like everyone who goes to war in the name of God. She’s a girl from the French countryside, who goes to seed and ends up becoming both a saint and a warrior. And for the French, it’s not clear whether Joan of Arc was an extremist Catholic, or a woman of the people. But she speaks a lot about what the French find it hard to figure out themselves: their identity. She definitely has a mystical identity, but she says something about France. To focus on Joan of Arc is to focus on France!

(Translated from French)

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