The dialogue is sparse when it needs to be and the camera, as if stalker, follows its prey (unprofessional "models/actors") around as if playing an unwanted game of cinematic doctor, highlighting the most mundane of activities. A farmer plowing his field. A midafternoon trist in the muddy woods, emotionless and dead-eyed. Matter-of-fact talk about going to war. The sound of gravel and mud schlopping beneath boot. More emotionless humping in grey-skyed landscapes. With such obvious allusions to Bresson (read: fucking hero worship), Bruno Dumont's Flanders could very well be his own Au hasard Balthazar - albeit a much less eloquent version.
Though never going quite as far as Bresson (or has he instead gone too far?) Flanders can by no means of course be compared with such a superior film (and filmmaker at that) as Balthazar (or Bresson) in any real sense of imitation or homage - Balthazar being the lyrical masterpiece-cum-holy New Testament fable that it is - but the same thoughts, the same motions, the same ideas are certainly there, if not a bit muddied in the translation. Perhaps it is due to the fact that Dumont paints with a hammer as opposed to the Goya-esque brushstrokes of Bresson, but he certainly at the very least uses the same paint and a similar, if less refined, palette. As he had done to Antonioni in his Zabriskie Point-derived Twentynine Palms, Dumont has homage'd the hell out of Balthazar. Bresson as pseudo-psycho porn. Perhaps this is what would have happened to the great auteur if he had live into this modern age of no holds barred decadence.
The exigesis, if it needs to be mentioned at all, is that of a distant farmer drafted into the French army and tossed headfirst into an unspecified war, while his "girlfriend" stays at home and willingly (and joylessly) engages in sodomy with a toothless local yokel who also stayed at home. Showing both the brutality of war - as if hidden within the strokes of Guernica - and the equal brutality of those left behind, the story of the messiah-saddled donkey in Balthazar is breathed, ever so brutishly, into Dumont's film. For better or for worse, the allusions are there and for the most part, they play as loving - if not quite brutal - homage.
Perhaps this cinematic marriage (or should I say rape?) of Dumont and Bresson is about as bizarre and/or nonsensical as Rumpelstiltskin paying homage to Helen of Troy, or Vin Diesel reciting the Cantos of Pound, but somehow, at the most gutteral level, it works. A film which is both barbarous and humane. Tender, yet still full of hate. A film which is mired in the muck of the mundane and still manages a glimmer of optimism. Bravo indeed. [06/18/07]