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THE LIFE OF JESUS

France, 1997 (MIFF 1998, International Panorama)

Director: Bruno Dumont

Winner of numerous awards - including European Discovery of the Year - The Life of Jesus is startling and masterful. Freddy and his pals are unemployed, perpetually bored and, apart from their scooters and the souping up of an old Peugeot, are without direction or ambition. Like a low-powered biker gang, they race around rural tracks and beaches, visit their dying friend in hospital or complain about the injustices of life while working on their tan. Like many of his colleagues in the resurgent French cinema, director Bruno Dumont views French society as being in a state of crisis. Dumont presents his audience with a disaffected 20 year old with a poor education and limited prospects. Battling ennui, inarticulate about his predicament, Freddy is also capable of explosive violence.

Freddy's girlfriend Marie is the only one of the gang who holds down a job. She is also a steadying influence but finds it difficult to draw Freddy away from his friends, frustration and constant demands for sex. After joining in the hounding and humiliation of a Middle Eastern family in a local cafe, Freddy and his cohorts take a dislike to a young Arab boy, Kader, who has designs on Marie. The situation ferments in the confines of a small town and moves inexorably toward a tragic conclusion.

Dumont captures the rugged beauty of the Flanders countryside in breathtaking cinemascope on one scale; the nuances of faces, gestures and emotions, in adoring close-up, on another. The performances of his cast of local, small town non-professionals are accomplished, unforced, totally convincing and without posturing or pretension. Dumont paints a damning portrait of a segment of society where a lack of education, chronic unemployment and despair for the future is a breeding ground for racism, hatred and violence.

Born in 1958 in Bailleul, France, Bruno Dumont wrote screenplays for the television documentary series Arthur et les Fusées. His short Marie et Freddy was a preliminary study for The Life of Jesus, Dumont's feature debut. The director is currently in production of his second film, L'Humanité.

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