The Life of Jesus | Chicago Reader

The Life of Jesus

Despite its title, Bruno Dumont's extraordinary first feature (1997) is not about Christ, at least not on any literal level. Nor is it about the Antichrist, though to some, the loutish young men tooling around Flemish backwaters on their motorbikes would appear to announce his coming. At the center of the group and the film is Freddy, a semiautistic epileptic who lives with his mother at the local bar. Freddy and his friends have little prospect of employment, so there's nothing much to do with a day except ride around, go to the beach, or watch a friend's brother die of AIDS in the hospital, though Freddy also has mindless, almost brutal sex with his girlfriend Marie at every opportunity. Yet Freddy is capable of great tenderness. He and Marie have an amazing ability to stand around silently for hours, holding or touching or leaning on each other as if connected in a closed circuit to the earth. Freddy's stillness is part of the incredible sense of corporeality Dumont is able to evoke. It's in the faces of his nonprofessional cast, particularly in the brooding presence of David Douche's Freddy. It's in the flatness of the CinemaScope landscape, in the insistent austerity of the sound track, and in the inertia that explodes into violence. The Life of Jesus may not be about religion, but like the films of Bresson, it is about redemption.

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