The Life of Jesus
(La Vie de Jésus)

          I've always considered myself a somewhat intelligent individual — not
  necessary intellectual — but "smart". Still, after Bruno Dumont's first feature
LA VIE DE JÉSUS/THE LIFE OF JESUS, I felt quite dumb. This is a film
  that has won festival awards and garnered high praise in France. But for
  the life of me, I just didn't get it. Dumont has said in interviews that
  he wanted to bring "humanism to Christianity" by telling this story. But
  whatever parallels he found in the story of a bored, unemployed
  twenty-something Frenchman who suffers with epilepsy and Jesus
  eludes me.

          The film's story (such as it is) revolves around the epileptic Freddy
  who passes his time making (graphic) love with his teenage girlfriend Marie
  or riding a motorbike around the countryside with his friends. Freddy lives
  with his mother, who operates a café that seems to have only one
  customer (who is more interested in the mother than the food or drink).
  The lives of the youths are disrupted by the arrival of an Arab family
  who become the target for their venomous hatred. Making matters worse
  is that the Arab son openly pursues Marie, creating a rivalry that sets
  the stage for an act of violence.

          Dumont has stated that as a child he saw someone undergo an
  epileptic seizure and found something sacred in the incident. What
  concerns him most is finding spiritual dimensions in physical realities and
  the film is his way of recounting a passion play but he has stated that it
  "is up to the public to look for Jesus in Freddy." Well, to me, that's a
  cop out. There are some things that are impressive in the film. There are
  scenes in which Dumont shows an almost painterly eye: Freddy and his
  gang gathered around the sickbed of the brother of one of them; the
  barren landscape of Flanders; a sojourn to the beach. But there are almost
  pornographic sex scenes that are out of place (the youthful actors had
  body doubles) and the boredom of the characters becomes interminable
  to watch. Most of the actors are non-professional but Dumont does
  manage to guide them to acceptable performances.

          The audience with which I saw this film mostly reacted the same way
  I did. There was a lot of head-scratching and blank stares. Most of us were
  furiously flipping through the press notes to try to make sense of it.
  Unfortunately, I still am.

Rating:                D+
MPAA Rating:        NONE
Running time:       96 mins.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.