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La Vie de Jesus
cast: David Douche, Marjorie Cottreel, Kader Chaatouf, Sebastien Delbaere, and Samuel Boidin

director: Bruno Dumont

96 minutes (15) 1997
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
Freddy (David Douche) is one of a gang of ugly teenagers who spend their time loafing around a small French town on cheap mopeds. One of their friends is dying of Aids. Freddy's girlfriend Maria (Marjorie Cottreel) fails to get any closer to him than during a bad fuck. Freddy suffers from epileptic fits; he makes frequent trips to the hospital for brain scans, yet never discusses his condition with Marie. The film charts the emptiness and boredom of Freddy's existence, showing us how utterly pointless his life his, and how he simply isn't interested enough to make changes.

A film like this one only works for me if it can evoke some kind of empathy - however slight - for the characters. Unfortunately, that isn't the case here. Freddy and his chums are banal, feckless and frankly uninteresting. None of them possesses the desire or mental capacity to aspire to anything other than their current lifestyle, and I kept hoping that they'd crash their whiny little motorcycles and die, if only to release them from their routine and unsatisfying lives.

Things begin to change at least between Freddy and Marie when tension escalates between the gang and a young Arab boy - the boys ridicule the Arab family in Freddy's mother's bar after band practice (the only thing they seem to do that has any value), and a game of tit-for-tat develops. When Marie is drawn to the interloper, the gang beat him up (in rather a bored manner) and strap him to their car.

If the above sounds rather dismissive, it's because the film tired me out. The direction is very good - Dumont clearly has an eye for landscape, and knows how to place his actors in it. The pacing is slow but never boring and scenes are nicely composed. On the surface, it's difficult to pinpoint the problem I had with this film, but it seems to reflect the apathy of its central characters. Events are depicted with such a lack of passion that I simply didn't care. The infamous full frontal penetrative sex scenes are thrown in to either shock or titillate, but succeed in doing neither. The violence is badly staged. The lack of real connection and commitment in the performances can't be excused by calling it naturalistic.

I had the sense that there was a good film here desperate to be made, but the end result lacks substance, empathy and any kind of engagement with the main characters. I really wanted to like La Vie de Jesus, but ultimately just didn't get the point. I didn't dislike it; I simply didn't care. Other directors have delivered similar films with much more honesty, charm, heart and compassion.

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