Dumont discusses the making of his Joan of Arc metal musical, achieving the film’s oddball comedy, and his aversion to cinematic moralising.
French director Bruno Dumont started his career 20 years ago making shockingly violent art house films, but switched to comedy and slapstick in 2014 with P’tit Quinquin. An unclassifiable, at times disturbing story of cannibalism in a quirky seaside French town, P’tit Quinquin was shown on French television as a four-part mini-series and released elsewhere as a condensed feature. Dumont had almost finished shooting Coin Coin, the follow-up to this odd project, when I interviewed him by phone last September to talk about his latest oddball comedy of sorts, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc.
Dumont’s fascination with singular faces and seaside settings have become his trademark since P’tit Quinquin; they are beautifully employed here. The film’s novelty is all in its unique, bonkers execution: rather than being a straightforward biopic about Joan of Arc as a child, Jeannette is a sung-through metal musical (you read that right). The meandering prose of the lyrics, the fact that most of the cast can’t really sing, the flying angels… make Jeannette a wildly funny experiment. Faced with such a joyous, unapologetically random amalgam, the film toys with the fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime.
This interview was conducted in French, then translated to English.
Seventh Row (7R): How did you first get the idea to make a film about Joan of Arc?
Bruno Dumont (BD): I was looking for a topic to make a musical about, but I didn’t want to write a story from scratch. I was interested in the story of Joan of Arc. I had read Charles Peguy’s medieval drama Le mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc. At the same time, I was aware that while some parts of Joan of Arc’s story have been told countless times — most of all, her trial — others are not well-known at all. So my interest in her childhood was a little contradictory, counterintuitive, and original, in the context of a larger story that is much less original — in fact, it’s famous to the point of being a myth. That seemed interesting to me, and the musical was also a novel way to treat that topic.'The metal music, the amateur singing, the little girls — I wanted to create a fusion with all these disparate ingredients, so that the sophisticated source text would appear livelier.'Click To Tweet