Bruno Dumont on working with the writings of Charles Péguy: "Poetry and literary expression can be a very difficult tricky thing." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
In Jeannette, L'Enfance De Jeanne D’Arc (Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc), at times, little Jeannette (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) looks up straight into the camera (cinematography by Guillaume Deffontaines - Slack Bay (Ma Loute), Li'l Quinquin, Camille Claudel 1915) and addresses God. Our position, helpless, watching from the audience, curious what this defiant girl demands, turns us into an unexpected, stupefied deity.
It is the contrast that stuns, between the early 21st century girls and music (composed by Nils Cheville, Laure Le Prunenec, Gautier Serre with the three saints in the film, Aline Charles, Elise Charles, Anaïs Rivière), the turn of the 20th century text, and the 15th century subject matter that never ceases to be urgent. "More wounded, more sick, more suffering" will exist until "someone kills war." As is well known, that someone, who prays for this warlord has to become the warlord herself.
Jeannette (Lise Leplat Prudhomme): "When Joan speaks to God she looks at the audience. God is the audience."
Bruno Dumont is faithful to the words of Charles Péguy. The marvellous, timeless landscape by the sea (who cares that it looks nothing like the place where the actual Joan grew up?), the serpentine brook in which her sturdy horse walks, the pettish commentary by the sheep intercepting the rhythms - all beguiles us to sink deeper into the text. Time lapses and we get to meet an older Jeanne (Jeanne Voisin), as always dressed in blue. Cinema is the place where miracles can still happen.
In the final instalment of my Rendez-Vous with French Cinema conversation in New York with the director, we discuss how adapting poetry and literary expression can be "a very difficult tricky thing", the importance of music bringing us to the trance, the cinematography of nature, and what he has next in store for us.
Anne-Katrin Titze: In Albert Serra's film The Death Of Louis XIV with Jean-Pierre Léaud, Léaud at one point looks at the camera and I felt that I in the audience am Death coming to him. In your film, less on the serious and more on the comedic side of the spectrum, there is a moment when little Joan is looking up at the sky and I am for a moment God when she looks up into the camera.
Bruno Dumont: Absolutely. When Joan speaks to God she looks at the audience. God is the audience.
Jean-Pierre Léaud on looking into the camera in The Death of Louis XIV: "You had to not be afraid of it and let it come towards you." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
AKT: And it's funny.
BD: That depends on you!
BD: It's a subtle thing because the decision of whether it's comical depends on the viewer. Because there are some people who don't find it funny at all.
AKT: I can imagine. Did you notice, the lights [at the Loews Regency on Park Avenue] went down for a split second when you just said that? Your film has something trance-like because of the music. It catapults us into a kind of trance.
BD: Poetry and literary expression can be a very difficult tricky thing. That's why there's this correspondence with music. Music is the thing that immediately gives us the ability to put things into motion, into a trance, the way that poetry does.
Music gives immediate expression to make us feel the poetic text. I would never have done Péguy without the music. Because it would be too austere. Music brings us the trance and that's why she dances as well.
We see very clearly that the entire history of western music is connected to religion. That shows the connection between the spiritual and the ability of music to make us feel the beyond.
Jeanne (Jeanne Voisin): "Music is the thing that immediately gives us the ability to put things into motion, into a trance, the way that poetry does."
AKT: Part of that is also nature, the way you show us nature.
BD: It's the cinematography of nature. Because nature on its own doesn't say anything. You need to frame nature to transfigure it. That's the entire work of cinema. Cinema transfigures the landscape. It transfigures the face.
And it moves the state of things into a thing that is something else. It moves it into the beyond as well. The landscape in Jeannette is not a landscape, it's an internal landscape.
AKT: It also makes you think, 1425, is this what it looked like?
BD: I think so. Nature is nature. It doesn't change very much. So I stay in nature to remain in a timeless state. And Joan of Arc is a myth. We're in mythology, so we're in something completely timeless that is not connected to history.
AKT: I wanted to point out that I don't often in cinema ask myself that question. You triggered it by putting nature in this mythological context.
BD: Absolutely. By erasing chronology, by erasing any historical data or information to let the viewer truly be in a timeless state.
AKT: I have heard that we will be reunited with an old friend. Li'l Quinquin is coming back? Can you tell me anything about that?
"Cinema transfigures the landscape. It transfigures the face."
BD: With pleasure! I wanted to come back to the same characters four years later. It's the follow-up to Li'l Quinquin. It's called Coincoin Et Les Z'Inhumains. So Quack, Quack [like the duck] and the Inhumans. It's following the hero into new adventures. I hope it's equally funny.
AKT: I am very much looking forward to it!
Read what Bruno Dumont had to say on being into religion, where Saint Michel, Saint Catherine and Saint Marguerite belong in cinema, Charles Péguy's Les Cahiers De La Quinzaine, and "that in tragedy we always have comedy."
Jeannette, The Childhood Of Joan Of Arc (Jeannette, L'Enfance De Jeanne D’Arc) opens in the US on April 13 at the Quad Cinema in New York.