Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Original title: La Vie de Jesus
France, 1997. 3B Productions, Norfilm, C.R.R.A.V, Centre National De La Cinematographie, Ministère de la Culture de la Republique Française, Canal+, Procirep, La Fondation Gan pour le Cinéma, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Pictanovo Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Screenplay by Bruno Dumont. Cinematography by Philippe Van Leeuw. Produced by Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat. Music by Richard Cuvillier. Production Design by Frederique Suchet. Costume Design by Nathalie Raoul, Isabelle Sanchez. Film Editing by Yves Deschamps, Guy Lecorne. Toronto International Film Festival 1997.
Bruno Dumont’s directorial debut takes place in a sleepy town in northern France where not much happens. Freddy is a member of a gang of boys who spend most of their time getting up to no good and, considering their options, it’s not like you can blame them. When Freddy, who suffers periodically from epileptic seizures, falls in love with checkout girl Marie, his entrance to the world of sexuality is an awakening that becomes an obsession, its dangers ripening when an Algerian boy also shows interest in Marie and rouses the racism that the Arab community is already facing in this placid hamlet. Dumont’s direction has many of the trademarks that would become staples, including non-professional actors (the selection of whom he does not have a Rossellini-like talent for), explicit sexuality and unpleasant confrontations. That it’s provocative is nothing to write a headline about, French cinema has been pushing boundaries for decades, but what keeps this one from really lifting off is how soft it is at its core. Freddy’s adventures could be used to make the case for whatever argument suits the viewer, about racism and/or sexism, the reality of violence versus its being romanticized in movies, the fact that what appears to be Freddy’s low-scoring intelligence is prey to bad behaviour in a place that is not equipped to serve him, or the conflict that is inevitable in economically depressed communities. You get the impression that Dumont just wants to make a film with nasty beatings and close-ups of hard-ons and will use any excuse to make it happen, resulting in a film that, despite the potential for extremely harsh emotions, is not all that affecting.