DIR/WRI: Bruno Dumont  •  PRO: Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Bréhat, Muriel Merlin • DOP: Yves Cape • ED: Basile Belkhiri, Bruno Dumont  • CAST: David Dewaele, Alexandra Lemâtre

A man, having accepted bread at someone’s doorstep, walks across the countryside of Pas-de-Calais, coastal north France.  He meets a distraught young woman clothed in black.  He offers his hand to help her.  She tells him she can’t take it anymore.  He replies that there is only one way.  At a lighthouse, he has acquired a gun.  Back at the young woman’s farmhouse, the man shoots and kills a man emerging from a shed.  The police arrive to investigate.

No genre film, Hors Satan presents a meditation on the nature of good and evil, an arty film that might reward patient audiences or bore viewers as vague and pretentious.

It unfolds in eleven sequences and leaves much to viewers’ interpretation.  Dumont’s work draws on Christian beliefs, Romantic aesthetics and naturalistic filmmaking.  He frames his characters as tiny individuals lost in a vast wilderness, as in the Romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.  His characters remain nameless figures, as with the people who populate such paintings.  He frames the man and the girl kneeling in the sand dunes and focuses on their hand gestures.  DOP Yves Cape, who frequently works with Dumont, creates beautiful images, including remarkable shots in which a cloud passes over the countryside, casting an ominous, if fleeting, shadow.

There is no music.  Instead, the wind almost constantly howls on the soundtrack, which also emphasises characters’ breathing.  Perhaps air symbolises the spirit that permeates the world.  It is that kind of film.  Dumont uses on-location sound, with birds singing and chirping, cocks crowing, and the sea rolling.

Unknown actors form the majority of Dumont’s cast, an approach that complements his naturalistic style.  Leading man David Dewaele, who appeared in Dumont’s Hadewijch, is better known as a member of dance music outfits 2 Many DJs and Soulwax.  His wrinkled eyes and sullen face appropriately display his character’s anguished, pleading gaze.  Alexandra Lemâtre is effective as the girl drawn to Dewaele’s character, who rebuffs her affectionate advances, while she avoids the guard’s overtures.  The man severely beats the guard after the girl informs him that he stole a kiss from her.

And so Dumont complicates the man’s role.  He satanically dances in fire.  He murders the girl’s stepfather.  A backpacker he meets invites him to have sex.  She spits bile when he enters her.  However, the girl in black sees him as his saviour, and, though it is deeply unnerving how he does it, the man helps another woman whose child suffers from an odd condition.  Is he evil?  Why does he kneel?  What is he looking for?  Dumont provides no easy or obvious answers.

In one sequence, the man, carrying his gun, approaches where the guard and the girl sit after a walk.  Shortly after that, the man fires a shot, and a bird chirping on the soundtrack falls silent.  What unfolds defies expectation, but the man’s explanation to the girl for what happened may not satisfy audiences.  With its slow pace and religious undertones, Hors Satan may not please everyone, but there remains much to admire in Dumont’s austere style.

John Moran

Hors Satan plays exclusively at the IFI

110 mins

Hors Satan is released on 4th January 2013


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