Bruno Dumont, director of “The Empire”: “I like my actors, I’m not looking for a power crisis”


For his twelfth feature film, the filmmaker makes his first foray into space opera. The film, in official competition at the Berlinale, which runs until February 25, naturally finds its place in a work obsessed with the question of good and evil.

Why did you choose the space opera form?

I wanted to tell the story of the origin of Freddy, the hero of The Life of Jesus [1997] , and immediately the idea of great fabulous and mythological stories came to me. In the space opera, things are clear, abstractions appear: we see infinity, the depth of space, good and evil. All these great nebulous notions end up being embodied. By taking on the genre, I wanted to make visible this metaphysical substance which usually pulses beneath things.

Your entire cinema is built on the idea that the deeper we go into the natural, the more we find the supernatural…

That’s what I’ve always thought of as natural. I film reality, the wheat fields and the people of the North, but I see clearly that there is always something else, that I always film beyond. We find this in the writings of the mystics: you have all the correspondences of the beyond in nature. And I see that on my editing table, I see that there is a cinegenic transfiguration. Knowing this, I shoot “small”: I take a small street, I film the ordinary things. I have so much confidence in the power of the camera that you have to approach it with humility. The light of the North, it is there, it rests there, we must not play smart with it. My cinematographer understood this very well, he saw that the camera immediately vibrates when he films at the edge of water or a rye field.

Why did you generalize the headset on the set?

I’ve been doing this since P’tit Quinquin [2014] . The actor who plays the commander [Bernard Pruvost] didn’t memorize, so we found this solution. I put an earpiece in his ear, an assistant gave him the text and I gave him some instructions; it worked very well. So I put earbuds on everyone, even [Fabrice] Luchini. It produces a disturbance in the actor that interests me. You should know that an actor is always worried about the text, the headset frees him from this anxiety, and for me, it allows me to talk to him without telling him how to play , because I don’t know anything about that. .

Isn’t there mutual intimidation between professional and non-professional actors?

I think professionals are afraid of non-professionals: they see very well that they are playing on three notes, but that these three notes sound very true. They feel that there is nature in front of them and that nature is real – they are very impressed by the North and the people of the North. But, deep down, all the actors are afraid. Fear is the partner, and I don’t reassure my actors, because I quickly saw that the fear of filming produces something on the screen.

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