The film-maker re­veals how post­cards in­spired his new film Slack Bay.

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As Bruno Du­mont looked around for his next project a cou­ple of years ago, he knew two things: it had to be a comedy, and it had to be set on the Côte d’opale in north­ern France, where the di­rec­tor lives. What he needed was an idea. It ar­rived in the shape of two post­cards.

“I came across these old cards, in par­tic­u­lar some show­ing the ‘ Passeurs de la Baie de la Slack’, the lo­cal folk who fer­ried mid­dle-class peo­ple from one bank of the River Slack to the other at the start of the 20th cen­tury,” he re­calls. “That trig­gered ev­ery­thing and acted as the start­ing point for my next film. When I started on the screen­play, I filled in the gaps be­tween these post­cards.”

When Du­mont fin­ished writ­ing, he had cre­ated Slack Bay, a macabre comedy set in 1910 about the life of a mad­cap com­mu­nity who live on France’s north­ern coast. That in­cludes lo­cal fish­er­men the Bru­forts who, to make ex­tra money, ferry rich hol­i­day­mak­ers across the river, and the ec­cen­tric Van Peteghem fam­ily, in­clud­ing Fabrice Lu­chini as pa­tri­arch An­dré and Juli­ette Binoche as his un­bal­anced sis­ter Aude, who spend their sum­mers in a huge man­sion on a hill.

“The start of the 20th cen­tury marks the emer­gence of the bour­geoisie, of in­dus­try, cap­i­tal­ism, and there­fore class strug­gle,” says Du­mont. “We are deal­ing with a found­ing nar­ra­tive, a prim­i­tive film about our age. For the first time, I had to re-cre­ate a land­scape that has dis­ap­peared. The post­cards of Slack Bay from that time helped in this. They gave a doc­u­men­tary foun­da­tion to the fic­tion.”

When it came to find­ing the right home for the snooty Van Peteghems, Du­mont set out to find a struc­ture that was ev­ery bit as over the top as the fam­ily. Fur­ther up the coast in Wis­sant, the Ty­pho­nium, a house built in a neo-egyp­tian style at the end of the 19th cen­tury, fit­ted the bill per­fectly. “Since the story quickly goes off the rails, I wanted a set­ting that em­bod­ies this folly,” Du­mont says. “The own­ers were ret­i­cent about wel­com­ing a film shoot. At first, they re­fused, but then agreed a year later. We filmed the ex­te­ri­ors at the Ty­pho­nium, and the in­te­ri­ors in an­other house that is just as whim­si­cal, dreamt up by some English peo­ple in a Tu­dor style [Château d’hard­e­lot near Con­dette].”

Dark dra­mas

Mak­ing Slack Bay is the lat­est in­trigu­ing move for one of France’s most un­pre­dictable and skil­ful direc­tors. Born in Bailleul, north of Lille, Du­mont stud­ied and taught phi­los­o­phy be­fore turn­ing to writ­ing and di­rect­ing films. Of­ten work­ing with non-pro­fes­sional ac­tors and mostly film­ing in the Calais area, the di­rec­tor be­came known for his avant-garde, dark, re­al­is­tic dra­mas. L’hu­man­ité (1999) and Flan­dres (2006) were both awarded the Grand Prix jury prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val and Hadewi­jch won the FIPRESCI (in­ter­na­tional film crit­ics) prize in 2009.

Af­ter di­rect­ing one of his most talked-about and crit­i­cally ac­claimed dra­mas, Camille Claudel 1915, in 2013, Du­mont changed lanes dra­mat­i­cally with the comedy TV se­ries P’tit Quin­quin.

“I might have done a lot of dra­mas in the past, but I ac­tu­ally do like to laugh,” he says with a wry smile. “In the depths of drama lies comedy and with

Camille Claudel 1915, I had reached the bot­tom. Work­ing on P’tit Quin­quin, I re­alised that comedy can also be very pro­found and spir­i­tual. Do­ing comedy is more dif­fi­cult than drama, though. I find a co­me­dian to be bit of a mys­ti­cal fig­ure. Comedy is less in­can­ta­tory and is dif­fer­ent to drama, and thus more dif­fi­cult to cre­ate.”

Help­ing Du­mont in his cin­e­matic jour­ney into the un­known while mak­ing Slack Bay was trusted col­lab­o­ra­tor Juli­ette Binoche, with whom the di­rec­tor worked on Camille Claudel 1915. Asked to put in a manic, un­re­strained per­for­mance as Aude Van Peteghem, the ac­tress obliged with­out think­ing twice. “Juli­ette is a coura­geous ac­tress,” says Du­mont. “I knew she could do any­thing, so I nat­u­rally thought of her for the role of Aude. She’s al­ways will­ing to go out of her com­fort zone and take a risk.”

With Slack Bay win­ning over crit­ics and au­di­ences, Binoche and Du­mont’s gam­ble has paid off, and the film has taken its place among the di­rec­tor’s sta­ble of mag­nif­i­cent odd­i­ties. “As a film-maker, I push ex­tremes to the limit,” he says. “The re­sult might have been hor­ri­ble, un­bear­able even, but in­stead it’s funny be­cause the comedy is fed by the tragedy. I wanted to find laughs in se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tions, the shad­owy zones that I have ex­plored in the dra­matic id­iom in my pre­vi­ous films. I just had to find the right dis­tance to do it. Ju­bi­la­tion is cleans­ing.” See Pierre’s re­view of Slack Bay on page 92.

ABOVE: A scene from Slack Bay, filmed on the Côte d’opale be­tween Calais and Boulogne-sur-mer

LEFT: Bruno Du­mont at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val; ABOVE: The di­rec­tor’s reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor, Juli­ette Binoche, in a scene from Slack Bay

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