The Empire


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Empire
"If you've ever wondered what a Star Wars pastiche by Monty Python might look like if barely any of the jokes landed then the latest film from Bruno Dumont is for you." | Photo: Tessalit Productions

If you've ever wondered what a Star Wars pastiche by Monty Python might look like if barely any of the jokes landed then the latest film from Bruno Dumont is for you. He offers a space opera-twist on notions of empire - Church and State - slapping them into the incongruous setting of the French countryside. This is, essentially, the punchline and he keeps on remorselessly punching it with little variation for two hours.

The action unfolds against the backdrop of a sleepy coastal village in northern France, which also hosted Dumont’s Li'l QuinQuin and Coincoin And The Extra Humans. Now, it is the home of a toddler named Freddy, who despite his outwardly cute appearance is - many mothers of young children may enjoy a wry smile here - evil personified, and known to his worshippers as ‘the Wain’. He is to become leader of the 0s, an alien race who have assimilated his father Jony (Brandon Vlieghe) and are bent on the destruction of humanity. They are ruled by Beelzebub (Fabrice Luchini, who at least seems to be having a whale of a time hamming it up in the role the Pythons would have stuck Michael Palin in). He is watching with eager anticipation from his spacecraft which is, to give credit where it is due, impressively modelled on the Palace of Versailles and its garden.

Copy picture

The forces for good are, of course, not far away. They are the 1s - ruled from another spectacular craft, this time modelled on Paris’ Sainte-Chapelle, by the Queen (Camille Cottin). Down in the village, they are represented by Jane (Anamaria Vartolomei) and her not particularly bright recruit Rudy (Julien Manier). The use of the Li'l QuinQuin setting also allows Dumont to bring back Captain Van der Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and his oppo Carpentier (Philippe Jore) but their absurdist business feels like a set of sketches tacked on for good measure rather than an integral part of the film.

As the forces go at it tooth and nail with lightsabers, Jane is also tempted to go sexually at it like hammer and tongs with her sworn enemy Jony. Dumont seems to have, if you’ll pardon the pun, zero interest in holding sexism up to the light - something Adèle Haenel said caused her to quit the film - leaning instead into the idea that all these good looking women, including Lyna Khoudri, just can’t wait to fall into bed with plain looking blokes. None of which stopped it being a hit with the jury at the Berlinale, who gave it a Silver Bear.

Beyond the impressive tech credits, this is a self-indulgent mess that never moves beyond its binary premise and struggles to keep its running gag on its feet. The whole enterprise feels forced.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2024
Share this with others on...
The Empire packshot
The forces of good and evil battle it out in a village in France.

Director: Bruno Dumont

Writer: Bruno Dumont

Starring: Camille Cottin, Lyna Khoudri, Anamaria Vartolomei, Fabrice Luchini, Bernard Pruvost, Bilal Gharbi, Brandon Vlieghe, Philippe Jore, Julien Manier

Year: 2024

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium


BIFF 2024

Search database: