Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE

Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE (France)

I reviewed Bruno Dumont’s FRANCE for Cine-file Chicago. Chicagoans can see it at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the next week. And they should:

Gene Siskel Film Center — See Venue website for showtimes

With FRANCE, Bruno Dumont remains wildly unpredictable, lurching from satire to melodrama and back again and tossing off all sorts of psychological and sociological provocations along the way. A friend of mine cheekily described this crazy movie as “the Bresson version of BROADCAST NEWS,” but I think it may be more instructive to see it as a politically explicit, Gallic variation on Lucrecia Martel’s THE HEADLESS WOMAN (2008). Dumont signals his allegorical intentions with the title, which refers not only to his native country but also to the protagonist (Léa Seydoux in her finest performance to date), a celebrated TV news personality who’s clearly meant to embody what Dumont sees as the virtues and flaws of his nation’s character. As a journalist, France is smart and talented, but some of the dubious ways she constructs segments for the nightly news signal a certain lack of self-awareness (as typified by a bravura sequence where she “directs” members of a third-world Muslim militia for an interview segment she’s shooting in the desert). The plot of FRANCE concerns the eponymous character as she undergoes a crisis of conscience after accidentally striking the Middle Eastern delivery driver Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar) with her car. Through France’s interactions with the working-class Baptiste and his immigrant parents (all of whom seem awed by her celebrity), as well as a subsequent extramarital affair that carries disastrous consequences, France becomes more in touch with her own feelings and begins a halting journey towards redemption, which marks her as a kind-of secular saint. (Another productive way to read FRANCE is as the third part of a martyrdom trilogy following Dumont’s musical diptych about Joan of Arc.) Dumont’s real masterstroke was casting Seydoux, an actress who was catapulted to fame by her lead performance in the controversial BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and went on to appear in a couple of James Bond films and Wes Anderson’s THE FRENCH DISPATCH (where she also seems to have been cast to evoke the very idea of French womanhood). Here, the-real-life-glamorous-movie-star Seydoux is playing a glamorous television star, one whose authentic identity has become subsumed by her need to be constantly “on” for the cameras. Dumont has spoken in interviews of his interest in showing, in the latter stages of FRANCE, the “awakening” of a character who until then has “practically been a robot” and how the heart inside of her is ultimately moved. Through the ever-deepening emotional intelligence of Seydoux’s layered performance, the director and actress have achieved this feat in perfect symbiosis. (2021, 133 minutes, DCP Digital) [Michael Glover Smith]


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

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