Ma Loute (Slack Bay): An interview with director Bruno Dumont
Bruno Dumont’s latest foray into broad comedy, Slack Bay (Ma Loute is the original title), is in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. By the marina, Dumont spoke clearly about his commitment to abstract cinema and his desire to pursue work unlike contemporary cinema.
You have recently become more interested in comedy but your new work retains some of the same concepts and themes we have seen previously. Do you have any comment on the shift?
The things are the same, the philosophy is the same, the landscape and the characters are the same but the mode of expression has changed. It’s just a different way of approaching the same material – the material being human nature. Exploring the ridiculous side of it just makes it more immediate. What’s comic proceeds immediately in a theatre watching the film, whereas drama is unclear and a deeper, darker perception of the relationship of things. Having this funny side, having this comic side, does not necessarily mean that it is shallower. It is still very deep. When a character falls down it is also saying something about the soul. I used to think that I had to be serious in order to deal with serious matters. I have now realised that I can also do it by exploring the first level of it and it’s more complete if I also explore the appearance. I continue to explore the content and I have a more complete approach to it. A term that is accurate for me is “tragic comic”: it’s comical but it also says a lot about tragedy.
It’s interesting that you work with non-professional actors and the dynamic between them reflects a certain dynamic in your movie – how you explore something primitive about human nature but also about social structures, and how the characters inherit corrupt elements in their nature.
Of course casting is a very sensitive question. First of all we have the human material. Expression has to come from their bodies and from their faces; you have to choose them because they have interest on the screen. Then there is the performance, the way they are going to act. Yet it is not because they are non-professional that they have to be themselves – they are never themselves. When I take a worker to play the fisherman he must have the ability to perform in order to be the right person for me. By acting, he is protected because he is giving his body and his voice to a film that is going to be seen by plenty of people. This is the protection that he will be given. Finally, there is the commission. I will give them the score that they have to perform and having this commission makes them do the same thing that the professional actors do. The only difference is a matter of status. For me some professionals are just skilled and they do their job well; some non-professionals in that meaning are more pro than some professionals.
You juxtapose quite clearly the complacent, decadent, bourgeois, aristocratic family with the violent, cannibalistic working class family. How important is the idea of class to the film?
My cinema is anything but social. Cinema has nothing to do with reality. [The film] is so over the top. It’s so grotesque. It’s so present in the depiction of the social features of these characters that there is no way you can take that seriously. On one side, they are cannibals, and on the other side, they are total fools and stupid people. All I do is to try and reach the spectrum of human nature. Both of them are inside us. If you really dig in yourself you will find the cannibal at some points, and if you climb up you’ll find some fool, aristocratic, posh person. They are all in us and I thought that by using the grotesque I would not have to explain myself any more and justify the fact I think that there is no reality in it. So the expression is taken to the most extreme part of it to describe human beings. I have nothing against, nor I am not depicting anything specific about this region of the world, which happens to be the region I was born in. But I have to start with one person, the one in front of me. But I have nothing against the bourgeois either and when [Pieter] Brueghel paints a kind of monstrous person, it is not that he had monsters around him in Flanders when he was painting. It was just his way of depicting the fullness of human nature.
Your cinema is very political in the sense that, for example, in the 1960s French cinema was very political. Some critics argue that you are very apolitical; you are not at all interested in politics. Can you tell us more?
Personally, I am on the side of the cannibal if there is some political aspect in what I do. It’s the extreme of the world. I am not in the actual social or political world, I am on the extreme side of it. Of course there is a political incident in my expression that is related to the world that exists. If there is this link it is due to catharsis. Like in Greek theatre when we laugh at the ridiculous aspects of ourselves. In this sense it can have an impact on society but I am not dealing with society. That’s what I consider the role of authors; entertainment in itself is a mistake to me. The role of art and cinema is not to run away from reality but to put it in question and to be relieved by the weight of reality.
It is aesthetically very interesting the dynamic between the very specific work with you actors’ gestures on the one hand, and on the other hand the very complex dynamic between these actors and the landscape. How did you conceive this relationship or how organic is it when you are making the movie?
Almost everything is preconceived. There is no way you can come on set and see what happens. Even if there is some accident you must be able to incorporate it in what has been pre-designed. I pre-design everything. I really draw it very precisely, and also in terms of preparing the crew I need to know exactly where I need to be. If I have to travel somewhere in advance I need the reels. So I can’t just go there on the spot and see what I want for this scene or that scene. Everything is exactly conceived and designed. There is no way of knowing how the actors are going to perform and this is why when we are on the set we are just there for that: to really tune the actors’ performance to have them offer different layers or levels of their performance.
Your work creates a critical divide. Is that purely a philosophical, artistic choice, or does it contain a sense of mischief as well?
Well, I think my only choice is the choice of sincerity. I made it the way I feel it. And it is not conventional, and it is not consensual, and it is not made to please. It is not made to infuriate either. I am not a provocateur. I haven’t made it to provoke anyone. It does not come out of any kind of perversion, but I just made it the way I feel it because I feel that’s how it is. And it is not a matter of film; it is a matter of human relationships and life. And in life, some people get along with you and some don’t and some reject you. But I think that the manipulation and the mischievous action would be to please at any price, and to do something in order to find something sensuous about this film. If you make it the way you feel it then it is up to people either to follow you or reject you.
Photo: Getty Images
Read our review of Ma Loute (Slack Bay) here.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about Cannes Film Festival 2016 visit here.