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Bruno Dumont France Review

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France | Review

France | Review

France de France: Dumont Soars with Offbeat Melodrama on Media & Misogyny

Bruno Dumont France Review Few and far between are odd cinematic delights so deliberately off-center and breathlessly eloquent in their design the immediate reaction of the public demands dismissal. French auteur Bruno Dumont’s filmography is defined by such a scope, entering a new frontier in his mastery with his latest, France (previously titled On a Half Clear Morning). It’s David Lynch doing Broadcast News (1987) all wrapped up in a Hollywood studio’s glossy ‘women’s picture’ sentiment (throw in a tinge of social commentary with a noir underbelly).

Doomed to be misunderstood, panned and browbeaten, Dumont’s every calculated move is actually morphing into a different kind of genre unto itself, a satire hybrid bolstered by one helluva committed Lea Seydoux performance, front and center in nearly every frame. Too sober for soap opera and yet too ludicrous for sentimentality, Dumont’s latest is a fantastically pleasurable cinematic delight.

France de Meurs (Seydoux) is France’s top crackpot television journalist. Aided by her goofy assistant Lou (Blanche Gardin), France orchestrates her own exposes on secret wars in the Mediterranean for her weekly news program, which has made her a national celebrity. Although critiqued by her peers, trapped in a loveless marriage with a novelist (Benjamin Biolay), and ignored by her child, France seems to have everything she desires, professionally speaking. And yet, there’s an emptiness gnawing away at her which blows wide open during a minor car accident with a motorcyclist, Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar, one of several signature Dumont casting decisions). Overwrought with guilt, the incident sends France into a tailspin, seeking a four week treatment in the Alps. Her naïveté and vulnerability leads to more anguish as well as the inspiration to resume her television program. But tragedy is destined to mar France’s comeback.

With her surname de Meurs translating as ‘to death,’ Dumont’s film is constantly collapsing the text and subtext of this commentary on martyrdom and news media—-we are literally being ‘Franced to death,’ her name uttered breathlessly in countless sequences. The delirium sets in immediately, with Seydoux’s attendance of a press conference for Emmanuel Macron, green screened into a purposefully frivolous goading of the French president for social media furor. Seydoux’s best chemistry in the film happens to be with her assistant Lou, played with the usual gonzo strangeness by Blanche Gardin.

Oddly, this morphs into a semi-serious melodrama on overproduced news and the alienation of celebrity. Seydoux gracefully balances an initial swagger melting into increasingly raw vulnerability, reminiscent of those lionesses of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but perhaps most closely to a Barbara Stanwyck, often headstrong but secretly aching inside for the love her power often denies her. Seydoux’s France is the melancholic equivalent of Sally Field in Soapdish (1991), a clear counterpart for most anguished entertainer.

Seydoux’s ability to cry is one highlight alone, and one can see how this film is the direct pivot from Dumont’s Camille Claudel, 1915 to his Joan of Arc films—ruined icons salvaged by history instead of being revered by their contemporaries once their ‘usefulness’ has faded. As glossy as anything Dumont has presented to date (re-teaming with DP David Chambille), the lens obsessively frames Seydoux as anxiously as Von Sternberg’s Dietrich films.

Featuring the swan song score from Christophe (who passed away in 2020 and also composed the score for Dumont’s 2019 Joan of Arc), a Badalamenti/Twin Peaks vibe should be the only clue we need to navigating the strange, specific bubble of France de Meurs, who lives inside an estate which could easily be a museum.

Christophe’s score includes a brilliant repetition of melancholy sighs, presented in just the right moments to underscore the unique balance of France’s sadness and our mirth. Spending time in a sanitarium on the Alps, she lets her guard down for a lover who will betray her (and yet keep returning) as she flip flops from retirement to comeback. Benjamin Biolay portrays her disinterested husband (who might potentially be gay based on one passing conversation). The extended denouement includes a superb, darkly comedic vehicular sequence which plays like an homage to the opening of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), segueing into a completely unpredictable finale. Boo and jeer all you like, Dumont’s France is a dazzling, energetically attenuated vision on those “pretty but useful women” who are punished and adored, celebrated and reviled.

Reviewed on July 15th at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition. 134 Mins

★★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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