Flanders By Bruno Dumont
Bruno Dumont’s Flanders is stark, bleak, and unadorned. It strips the characters—dressed in clothes, only slightly more stylish than gunny sacks — of decorum and, for the most part, purpose. There are few obvious indicators of era, except for the presence of a combine, helicopter, and car. Taciturn, their intents and motivations muted, bestiality and violence emerge as their most salient characteristics.
When André (Samuel Boidin) receives his draft notice, to which he appears indifferent, Barbe (Adelaïde Leroux), his female friend and neighbor, invites him to the bushes for sex. He takes her up on the offer with the enthusiasm of receiving a cup of coffee. And indeed the act, to which we are privy of every second, evokes no more emotion from either participant than that of relieving oneself at the toilet.
However, there is more to this tumble in the hay than meets the eye, at least for Barbe. At the local pub, when André is asked whether they are a couple, he answers no. In response, Barbe picks up a guy in the bar and goes home with him. She is soon informed by a girl friend, that she has been labeled as a slut, a rare concession in the film to social code — a priori chauvinism.
The other lads of the village also receive their “letters,” including the man by whom André has been cuckolded. Reporting for duty, they load into a truck, and head for an unnamed war, the landscape and inhabitants of which, would indicate northern Africa.
Entering into house-to-house warfare, so common to contemporary conflicts, they initially find themselves in combat with child snipers, whom they kill. In their search of mostly deserted dwellings, they discover a woman. They quickly and tacitly agree to rape her, with the abstaining member subjected to questions about his manhood. This violation is avenged summarily by a brutal castration.
André, the sole member of the squadron (seven or eight soldiers) to return home, meets questions and requests for details of his war encounters, his reluctance serving as the first overt acknowledgement of male conscience in the film.
Dumont’s vision is blunt. The fields are muddy, at the edge of which, copulation occurs in manner barely distinguishable from farm animals. The players are metaphorically mired at the edge of this muck, failing to have advanced past the sensibilities common to those who preceded them on this very land a millennium prior. Flanders value lies in its economy of images and dialogue.
This is not a work graded by a number of stars, or the directions of someone’s thumb. The film is an accomplished and legitimate piece of art, worthy of your attention, for what it says, and how it says it.
Plays Aug. 3-9 at the Northwest Film Forum