FLANDRES
(Flanders)

I'm always a bit skittish when it comes to watching and reviewing movies by
French filmmaker Bruno Dumont. I know that some of my critical brothers and
sisters have embraced his films, yet I've watched them (well all but one -- I
have not seen
L'HUMANITÉ and don't have any plans to see it) and have
ended up scratching my head. I don't "get" them. I'd like to think I'm an
intelligent person, but Dumont's work just doesn't speak to me.

That said, I went into the screening of
FLANDRES, Dumont's award-winning
drama about the cost of war. There's clearly an immediacy to the film given
current history. As usual, the filmmaker has opted to cast the movie with
mostly unknowns and/or nonprofessional actors. Simon Boidin has the central
role of Demester, a farmer in the titular area who finds himself called up to
serve in the military. Demester has an on-again, off-again relationship with
Barbe (Adélaïde Leroux). They rut like farm animals in the woods, wordlessly
and, for her, without any seeming pleasure. As his departure draws near,
Demester refuses to acknowledge that he has feelings for Barbe and one
evening out with friend, denies that they are a couple. Hurt, Barbe turns to
Blondel (Henri Cretel) and begins a short-lived affair with him. In a schematic
twist, Blondel is also awaiting deployment.

The action of the film then shifts to an unnamed country that could be in the
Middle East or in North Africa. Dumont is deliberately vague about the conflict
(although it can clearly be read as involvement in Iraq if one so desires). The
six or so men from Demester's village are all assigned to the same platoon
and soon find themselves fighting against an enemy that consists of children
and female soldiers. Some of the men -- including Demester -- sexually
assault one of the female soldiers.

Meanwhile, back at home, Barbe discovers that she is pregnant and then
suffers some sort of breakdown around the same time that the men begin to
commit atrocities and suffered casualties. I suppose Dumont is trying to
indicate that she -- and by virtue, all of us -- are somehow connected. (He
unfortunately handles that idea about as well as the filmmakers behind
BABEL).

While watching this film, I was also wondering just how some of the critics
would react to the decidedly underpopulated war scenes. I know some of my
fellow reviewers took director Philip Haas to task for the way he staged battle
sequences in
THE SITUATION. Well, in comparison to FLANDERS, that
film looks like
APOCALYPSE NOW, but because Haas isn't a French
philosopher, he will suffer in comparison.

I wish I could say that I liked
FLANDERS, but it is almost as if Dumont has a
checklist of what to include in his movies. Bucolic setting? Check. Unsatisfying
sex? Check. Rape? Check. Castration or other form of male debasement?
Check. For me, this film was more of the same and since I was not an acolyte
worshipping at the shrine, it didn't matter to me.


                                
Rating:        C
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: Henri Cretel as Blondel, Adélaïde Leroux as Barbe, and
Bruno Dumont, 2006; 91m
Photo Credit: © R. Arpajou
© Tadrat Films