LOCARNO, Switzerland — After “Jeanette,” “Jeanne.” Bruno Dumont, one of France’s big name auteurs and recipient later this week of a Locarno Lifetime Achievement Award, will roll from next Monday on “Jeanne,” the movie sequel to “Jeanette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc,” which premiered at Cannes last year. Paris-based Luxbox handles world sales on “Jeanne.”
The new movie shoot comes just days after Dumont will also world premiere at Locarno broadcaster Arte mini-series “CoinCoin and the Extra Humans,” sold by Paris-based Doc & Film Intl., and his sequel to his biggest more-mainstream hit to date, 4-part series “P’tit Quinquin.”
Written by Dumont, “Jeanne” will once more be a musical, adapting the second and third parts of Belle Epoque writer Charles Peguy’s “The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc.” These take Joan of Arc’s story through her victorious battles against the English, court case and death, burnt at the stake.
Many movies have been made about Joan of Arc, Dumont recognized at Locarno. “I’ll try to make for a modern age an adaptation which communicates the power of Peguy’s work: He was a major thinker and poet of modernity,” Dumont said.
He added: “Jean of Arc’s story is very easy to understand. We should tell things simply so that they’re accessible, without avoiding saying complex things.”
As Dumont has said of “Jeanette,” Joan of Arc’s life story is “the story of France, its mystic mystery, contradictions of culture and history, every facet of its spirit and heart.”
Dumont went on to say that he would work with a young Joan of Arc: The one who dies at the stake will be 10 years old. He will also abandon the thundering electro rock of “Jeanette” for the music of Christophe, the 1980s French pop singer and composer whom Dumont described as one of the great singers of French music and praised for the “melodiousness” of his music.
Shooting all of August, “Jeanne’s’” battle scenes will be shot on the sand dunes of Dumont’s native northern France, Joan of Arc’s trial in Amiens Cathedral. The battles will be choreographed, he added.
“Jean” was awarded a French government subsidy in January. As was reported at the time, Jean Brehat will produce for 3B Productions; French distribution will be handled by Les Films du Losange.
The English writer John Ruskin wrote a book about Amiens Cathedral, with a preface by Marcel Proust, Dumont observed at Locarno. Not many people know that. But that is probably the most erudite observation Dumont makes in a half-hour interview at the festival in which he fought against his reputation as an incomprehensible intellectual.
“CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans” certainly will do his newfound fame for more frequent accessibility no harm at all. World premiering at Locarno, and set to bow on French free-to-air broadcaster Arte in September. It returns Dumont happily to his home turf of blowsy cold countryside in Northern France, reprising the characters, slapstick. whimsy and near social surrealism of 2014 four-part mini-series “P’tit Quinquin.”
Some of the characters are notable older: Broken-nosed urchin Quinquin is now a strapping adolescent; Eve, the bugle-playing girl opposite, for whom CoinCoin still carries a candle, is also three-years-older, and is going out with a girl, Corinne. Fatso, the other member of the gang, is still fat. Captain Van Der Weyden, the head of the local village police, is thankfully the same imbecilic, bug-eyed, constantly blinking, grimacing, gangle-armed and monumentally bumbling law enforcement supremo.
“P’Tit Quinquin” proved a darkly comedic Cap Nord Noir as Van Der Weyden and sidekick Carpentier investigate a series of gruesome murders, where cadavers are found eaten inside maddened cows. “CoinCoin and the Extra-Humans” rings another genre change, weighing in as an alien invasion comedy.
Dumont’s register may have changed. His Hobbesian humanist world vision most certainly has not. Nor his capacity for mordant metaphor. The aliens hit earth as dollops of black gunge, falling from the heavens, half magma oil, half cow-pack, looking like the locals’ racist perception of the other aliens, illegal African immigrants, wandering the countryside outside Calais: Piles of shit.
“Coincoin” “talks about how people view the ‘other,’” said Dumont.
“Coincoin” paints a sometimes laugh-out-loud portrait of the imbecility of its law enforcement officers. Having been informed by the local forensic experts that the gunge is extra-terrestial, rather than communicate a heads-up to the world of the most important event in the history of humanity, Captain Der Weyden decides to visit the immigrants’ shanty camp, which seems suspicious.
In “P’tit Quinquin,” multiple villagers could have committed its murders. In “CoinCoin,” CoinCoin and Fatso join the local National Front, though CoinCoin has second thoughts.
But both series do not serve social judgement on the local community of this area of France, once a bastion of Marine Le Pen’s racist National Front, Dumont insists. Pig ignorant, tenacious, loyal to Carpentier, always on the case, and monumentally incompetent, Der Weyden is merely a reflection of the human condition, said Dumont. “Life is a tragicomedy,” he asseverates.
“CoinCoin” begins as the local village builds up for Carnival. It’s a time of “transgression, when men dress up as women, women as men, a huge mix, which is an act of catharsis,” Dumont says.
Art also offers transgression, is an act of purging, which gives people in highly-policed world the possibility of liberation from their own natures,” he argues.
He adds: “Cinema isn’t only entertainment, it purges the vicissitudes of nature. ‘CoinCoin’ isn’t just escapism, it has an educational role as well, a social mission to play.”
Dumont has spent some of the interview clearing joking. And he’s clearly delighted to have found in TV an audience of millions for his fiction. But in his deep faith in the role of art, however comic, he remains a deadly serious auteur.