On a notably rainy day in London, at the French institute in West London, we had the pleasure of sitting down with director Bruno Dumont, in the capital city (back when people could travel) to discuss his latest project, and his return to the character of Joan of Arc. The film, which delves into the childhood of the heroine as she leads an army of the King of France. It’s a unique film, and not the first time Dumont has tackled this figure either.
“She’s a very strong figure on many levels,” he began. “Whether it’s in the history of art of the heads of French people, but beyond that universally, just human history. There’s the myth, the constant necessity of innovating and renewing this myth. There must be around 80 films. So we’ve never found the answer.”
As he points out, Joan of Arc is a character we’ve seen so many times before, but in this instance we look at the years seldom seen in cinema, which stands this offering out from the crowd.
“We all tend to know the end of her life but we don’t really know her childhood, so that was the motor really, in terms of a starting point,” Dumont explained. “I’m interested in how myths start. The common, profane start to the story. Also, I’m interested in difficulty, if it’s not hard, I’m not interested. There is a risk in working with a young actress, but I like that difficulty. When it’s easy it never works.”
We also asked if he’d revisit the character again one day, to which he simply replied, “No it’s finished, she’s dead.” Fair enough.
But with Dumont to see him tread new ground is never a bad thing, for he’s a creative filmmaker who is impossible to second-guess. We asked if his eclectic range of projects and themes was a conscious decision to test himself, or whether he just follows his instinct.
“It’s a choice I make [to be different] because I need that surprise,” he said, sitting back. “I don’t want to repeat myself, I want an adventure. I need the project to be adventurous. Telling the story of Joan of Arc as a 10 year old girl was more interesting to me than with a woman of 19.”
With this resourceful approach to storytelling comes a branding of eccentricity – is this a description that he finds complimentary in regards to his work?
“It’s a double-notion, the idea of eccentricity, because it’s all very relative,” Dumont said. “Whether you’re just conventional or eccentric. I believe that art should break conventions but without getting into huge, crazy eccentricity. The idea is not to be eccentric for the sake of it, there are plenty of films deemed eccentric that are rubbish. The idea is to tell the story and for it to work.”
We then asked whether he could see himself making the move to America, and give Hollywood a go…
“I’d be interested [in making a film in Hollywood] but of course you’d have to find the right project. I find Hollywood cinema very interesting. But what really touches me is that cinema can be from anywhere and it manages to find a way to reach out and bring us towards people, it’s an extraordinary art-form.”
As someone who has such a great affection for filmmaking, we asked which esteemed auteurs have had the greatest influence on his work, those he aspires to emulate. But his answer was that films touch him, filmmakers don’t.
“It’s the actual films that touch me. Filmmakers should not be idolised,” Dumont said. “We have to love their films, and sometimes a filmmaker can make a gorgeous film… but, I mean Renoir has made really bad films. And some gorgeous ones. I’m put out by the mediocrity of some of Renoir’s films. How he’s also done some amazing works of art. Same with Jean-Luc Godard. He’s done works of art, then trash. That’s why I think it’s better to admire a film, rather than a filmmaker.”