Directed by: Bruno Dumont | 91 minutes | action, drama | Actors: Adélaïde Leroux, Samuel Boidin, Henri Cretel, Jean-Marie Bruveart, David Poulain, Patrice Venant, David Legay, Inge Decaesteker
Anyone unfamiliar with Bruno Dumont’s films and expecting a romantic war film on the basis of the film’s summary can come home from a very cold fair: Dumont would rather break the hearts of his main characters than those of the viewers; with violence. A wave of indignation and horror can befall you at the distraught behavior of the Dumont people, often ragged peasants from the hill country just over the French-Belgian border near Ypres. In ‘Flandres’ these already limited people even seem to have been thrown back to the time of the world wars, in a region so hopelessly left to fate that all men prefer to go to the front, even though in 2006 this is a foreign country unknown to them.
‘Flandres’ tells the story of the incommunicative giant Demester (Samuel Boidin), who, the week before he is sent to an unspecified Arab country, spends some time on his farm, drinks pints with friends and has intercourse silently in the undergrowth with girl next door Barbe ( Adelaide Leroux). Not that the latter even resembles love: Barbe asks Demester if he’s coming, lowers her woolen tights down to her ankles and the giant silently agrees; When Demester refuses to acknowledge that he and Barbe are a couple in the cafe, she disappears with the first in the back seat of his car while Demester shrugs.
Those who are trained in watching Dumont know enough: such behavior is a harbinger of much greater disaster. Clichés even lurk in the Flemish phase of the film, which doesn’t bring much new compared to the rural reflections in the man’s earlier films, but then Dumont comes with a fabulously raw account of the experiences of the group of soldiers in the desert. – recorded in Tunisia, but clearly referring to Iraq and Afghanistan. Dumont’s realism, in which there is only room for arbitrariness and violence, works excellently in the film part about the war, which even has documentary allure. As a clearer of the relations between East and West, Dumont seems to compete with Iñárritu in ‘Babel’, without having to weaken his vision. Violence is absolutely in Dumont’s world view and the barren, unlivable desert is just as at the mercy of determinism as the French-Flemish countryside. Demester the soldier is as jaded as the peasant and seems to take every sledgehammer blow of the war indifferently; meanwhile, Barbe gives herself away like a cattle on the home front, while pregnant and her mental condition deteriorates.
Humans are animals, it seems as simple as that. Still, Dumont wants to let a glimmer of hope shine this time. We won’t tell you in what way, but the success of this change of course compared to ‘L’Humanité’ and ‘Twentynine Palms’ is partly due to the excellent Samuel Boidin, who puts down a convincing Demester from minute one, who despite his own misdeeds and that of others turns out to have feeling; perhaps that is even more disturbing.