In the past couple weeks I've watched all of French director Bruno Dumont's films: La vie de Jésus, L'humanité, Twentynine Palms, and Flandres. Now my soul feels scraped out. The man is brutal. He really is onto something, however. His unflinching look at bodies can make for unsettling viewing, but it is needed. It is very strange how the books that I have been reading are melding with the movies I'm watching, and vice-versa. Everything I've been reading and watching has focused on bodies and their political and theological import.
I'm not talking about identity politics. I have no patience for identity politics. I guess what I'm talking about is a need to confront bodies without our usual defense of ironic detachment or flat out disavowal. This is what fascinates me about Dumont's films, though admittedly they freaked me the hell out in that they allowed me no emotional distance. Whenever I came to the end of one of his films I'd feel the same thing: really fucking revulsed and really alive. That alive feeling is very similar to a feeling I would get when I would draw. When I did draw I always drew bodies. I started seeing people in different ways. After you draw faces, heads, hands, backs, etc, for an extended period, the boundaries and defining lines of these body parts start to erode and drift. The eyes end up being just as "meaningful" as the elbow (similar to some of the world's peoples who do not differentiate between "arm" and "hand", they have no word for hand). I found myself staring at people's heads, in awe of this mass of flesh that is different from any other mass of flesh, where categorizing these lumps of flesh is silly, because "heads" only exists linguistically.
Of course this categorization is inevitable, but during those brief moments when we're confronted with bodies in all their ambiguity and vulnerability, their fleshiness, we see that those categories are ultimately malleable, leaving us, as Dumont's films do, with brief glimpses of the world's openness. The lower-case "h" in the title of L'humanité is important, as that which is human is still open to question.
Disclaimer: I don't intend this post as a recommendation of Dumont's films. They're not for everyone. Lots of graphic sex and violence. But if those things don't bother you, go for it.
I think I need a little break from French extreme cinema. Next up: Paprika by Satoshi Kon.