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Bruno Dumont • Director

"Before, I had a telescope, now I have a microscope"


- CANNES 2016: French filmmaker Bruno Dumont deciphers his incredible and extraordinary arthouse comedy Slack Bay, which had its premiere in competition at Cannes

Bruno Dumont • Director
(© C. Duchêne / Festival de Cannes)

Accompanied by his actors Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrice Luchini, Jean-Luc Vincent, Brandon Lavieville and Raph, French filmmaker Bruno Dumont explained to the international press why he threw himself into the extraordinary Slack Bay [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Bruno Dumont
film profile
, which was presented in competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, in a madcap and corrosive tragicomedy.

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Did you want to tell a story of madmen?
Bruno Dumont: Yes, a story of madmen, but with a love story, a detective story, a cruel story and marvellous story woven in. I wanted to mix colours and make a colourful film.

And this surprising shift in your filmmaking towards comic power?
Comedy is a degree of drama. If you push the bounds of drama just a little you end up in comedy. I was astonished to discover that comedy is not a lesser art in film. It requires even more care in the framing as it makes everything bigger. And for the first time, I really played with the sound effects to accentuate perception.

When you broached the issue of animal instinct in your other films, the result was rather disturbing. Is the same violence more acceptable in comedy form?
It’s an evolution. For a long time, I wanted to get out of drama, which is isolating. Here, I opened a valve, but there is drama in comedy. Now, I know how to join violence and an about-turn better, and I’m surprised to see just how much this about-turn takes the edge off the violence. Cannibalism, for example, is acceptable because it’s funny. You can broach serious things with comedy. At any rate, we’re all mixed in, saints and swine, morons and geniuses, and I film to get to the heart of that. 

What about the police investigation, the resolution to which is unveiled immediately?
In this film, it’s a peripheral element, but it’s a good driving force. It moves the story forward, allows the camera to move around and capture everyone. It’s nothing completely new for me, in Humanité, there was an investigation with a strange policeman. It’s above all a good way of representing a quest in a simple way that’s down to earth. 

Back in the day, you only used amateur actors. Here we have French stars playing the rich characters and amateur actors playing the poor characters. Was this a theoretical choice?
Yes, as comedy is very schematic. They are are caricatures. In this film, it’s not about sociology, but philosophy based around the notion of man as he is. But as the characters are very colourful, I needed comedy artists, actors. They’re real artists, and for me, it was an extraordinary experience, even though it was very difficult. But I only direct, actors are the ones who make the magic happen.

You shoot all your films in Northern France and Slack Bay is reminiscent of the style of carnivals in the region.
True, it’s a tradition of the North, and I researched these masks, this grotesqueness, these costumes with their big heads, this tradition of dressing up. But under the mask, under the show, there’s something more refined, something social: it’s like a purge as it does you good to laugh. Then, there are the landscapes of the North. I wanted to film the violence of things and the simplicity of the landscape, whilst not forgetting that the grotesque is also involved in linking together the actors and the settings. 

At times the frames and images remind you of a painting
You have to acknowledge painting as you make films and even if they’re influenced by pictures, film is about movement. For me, the worst thing would be to paint a nice picture, but you nonetheless need a picture in your head. What inspired me was photography from the early 20th century. The difficulty is combining that with the digital to tell a story about the past in the present, as the film also needed to be contemporary. I leant hard on the digital aspect to make the film ultra realistic, notably with close-ups of the actors. I thought about the viewer and how to bring them into the credibility of the story. At any rate, you can’t film what is eternal. I was inspired by the costume and traditions of the time to tackle other subjects, which is what I always do. Quite simply, before I had a telescope, now I have a microscope.

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(Translated from French)

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