Vie de Jesus, La (1997)

A fascinating feature debut by Dumont, who captures the tedium of French countryside life by finding beauty in the mundane and the horrific in the nonchalant, working with non-professional actors with aplomb.   

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,435

Dir. Bruno Dumont
1997 | France | Drama | 96 mins | 2.35:1 | French & Arabic
Not rated – likely to be R21 for explicit sexuality, some violence and coarse language

Cast: David Douche, Marjorie Cottreel, Kader Chaatouf
Plot: Freddy is young, unemployed and suffers from epilepsy. He spends his days riding scooters with his friends or hanging out with his girlfriend Marie. An Arab family arrives in town, setting off the racist prejudices of his gang. 
Awards: Won Camera d’Or – Special Mention (Cannes)
Source: Doc & Film Intl

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Youth Listlessness; Racism
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No


Bruno Dumont announced his arrival as a bonafide French talent with La vie de Jésus, a film that remains unclassifiable, and like his even more bizarre sophomore feature, L’humanité (1999), captures the countryside life of a quiet town in northern France. 

To say that it is quiet is a misnomer though, for the roaring noise of bikes occasionally punctuates the stillness.  One of the bikers, Freddy, is the protagonist whom we will become acquainted with. 

Unemployed and living with his mother in a modest eatery-cum-residence, Freddy spends his time with his gang doing nothing. 

His girlfriend, Marie, sometimes follows him around, and in one scene, they have a quickie in the middle of an open field, which in contrast with the existential tedium, jolts us in its sexual explicitness. 

“You’d feel the same if you were me.”

Dumont finds beauty in the mundane with stunning picturesque vistas and the almost dreamlike images of empty streets.  But when a young Arab man sets his eyes on Marie, monotony is broken as racism rears its ugly head. 

Working entirely with non-professional actors, Dumont skilfully draws out authentic performances yet these are also performances that feel slightly ‘off-kilter’, creating an undercurrent of unease that portends a karmic inevitability. 

An assured feature debut, La vie de Jésus does take up a spiritual dimension as its beguiling title suggests, though these are far and few between and very much open to interpretation. 

No one is a saint, and sinning doesn’t seem to come with any overt consequences.  But Dumont, as uncompromising and poetic a filmmaker as any, leaves us with no judgment of these characters’ faults—or fates. 

Grade: A-


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