Hors Satan: Masterpiece or Rubbish?

HORS SATAN (Outside Satan.)
Directed by Bruno Dumont
3B Productions 110mins, in French with English subtitles (one nude/sex scene.)
No stars or 5 stars? (* * *)

Bruno Dumont is best known for religious fables that make absolutely no concessions to a popular audience. His previous picture, Hadewijch, centered on a religious novice so devout, she was thrown out of her convent. His current work is even more extreme. Set in a bleak, thinly populated, haunting corner of Pas de Calais near Boulogne, where a ragged ascetic figure played by David Dewaele, resembles the student who played Christ in Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew. He trawls the desolate countryside bordering the nearby beach - a mix of wild tangled undergrowth, twisted bending trees and blank sand. He sleeps rough in this isolated area in what looks like the remains of a building where just a small 90deg brick corner is left. Fed by local families, he stops for silent prayers gazing over the shimmering horizons towards the sea. He kills two people: the abusive father of Elle, a teenage girl played by Alexandra Lematre and a forest guard played by Christophe Bon who had bothered the same girl. He also refuses the sexual advances of the teenage girl but makes love to a stray back-packer, Juliette Bacquet who then appears, at orgasm, to enter a state of ecstasy.
The film appears to be dealing with notions of the closeness of the sacred and demonic, the idea that good and evil, the Christ-like and the Satanic, are different sides of the same coin. The dialogue is minimal and there’s no music – all sound is natural: wind, rain, footsteps, voices and cries. But maybe Dumont has other things in mind. There are many problems with this film. Heavily resembling Pasolini’s and Antonioni’s work, it’s not an easy ride. Its Bresson-like silences, the crawling camerawork over the wild landscape, and the slowness in reaching any conclusions ensure that viewers will have to pay sharp attention.  It could be a masterpiece; it could also be utter drivel. In the end, I suspect there are elements of each. Some reviewers have noted Dumont’s seeming lack of empathy with the people in the village. Other complaints concern the main character’s aloof behavior. Some criticism is off base and reflect desires for a comprehensive study that are not borne out by the film’s overarching aesthetics. Did viewers expect the villagers to hold dinner parties? This isn’t a Hollywood thriller or a stifling romantic-comedy and it’s a sure thing it will not get released at a mall near you! To catch it you’ll need to track down an independent cinema, a college film series, or wait for its DVD release. Or you could jet off to London, where it seems to be doing better box office than other places. --Lloyd Cellus

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