La Vie de Jesus

Director: Bruno Dumont

Young, unemployed, epileptic and still living with his mother, 20-year-old Freddy leads a life of frustration and tedium in the small town of Bailleul in northern France. He spends much of his time racing around the narrow country lanes with his girlfriend, Marie, to whom he is devoted. Trouble erupts when Freddy and his racist pals discover that a local Arab boy had eyes for Marie.
Winner of the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo, Bruno Dumont’s rigorous and disconcerting film mixes the tough realism of recent France cinema with the kind of visual poetry that’s reminiscent of the work of Robert Bresson. Very well shot in luminous wide-screen on unfamiliar locations and with an excellent amateur cast, this impressive feature debut goes beyond surface realism and local colour to unveil forces of good and evil at work in a cultural backwater.
The film is first and foremost an honest, unsentimental portrait of bored, inarticulate youth. Freddy expresses himself through actions rather than words, and Dumont’s sharp images provide a palpable sense of character and environment. This emphasis on the physical extends to the film’s explicit depiction of Freddy’s sexual relationship with Marie, with Dumont even using body doubles for a graphic penetration scene.
As its title suggests, the film is also concerned with spiritual matters. Dumont says that he wanted to regenerate the meaning of the life of Jesus, to show that there is a humanism in Christianity that they don’t teach in the Church or in the schools. The point is made by the film’s compassionate portrayal of Freddy’s progress through suffering, love, sex and sadness to a sense of responsibility and direction. Appropriately, Dumont’s compelling, robustly humane film ends with a tantalising glimmer of hope.

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