In Flanders Fields . . . .

The new Bruno Dumont film, Flandres, has been rightly touted as a return to form after the utter awfulness of Twenty-Nine Palms. The film, which opens today at the Cinema Village, is certainly of a piece with The Life of Jesus and L'Humanite, his first two films; each of these is a study of humanity reduced to a level just short of barbarism, and the relationship between men and women in all four films is a devastating mix of primal need and brutality. At least in Flandres the situation is such that this seems almost normal; his protagonist, a sullen, almost silent farmer named Demester (a handle as disproportionate to its owner as Jesus is to the motorbike-riding hellraiser of Dumont's debut feature), played with an earthy hungriness by Samuel Boidin, is drafted to fight in an unidentified war in a seemingly North African nation. Once there, he and his homies manage to inflict rape and disaster on the inhabitants, who are more than happy to return the favor in equally vicious ways. The casualness with which everyone commits atrocities is frightening but, in the age of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, all-too-believable. What gives the film its ultimate power, though, is that Dumont is able to convey in its final scenes how badly even a seeming thug like Demester has been by what he has experienced and witnessed. Dumont's vision of the world is remorselessly unpleasant and the amount of redemption he allows his characters is pretty minimal, but in Flandres his sure-footed relation of character to environment and action is painfully effective. Not a pretty picture but one that has a certain blunt-force-trauma kind of power.

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