Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Hors Satan (Outside Satan)

Controversial yet meditative French drama makes inscrutability its raison d’etre.

Jan 17, 2013

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370278-Hors_Satan_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Director Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus, Twentynine Palms) wrestles yet again with spiritualism and the issues of good and evil in Hors Satan (Outside Satan), a story about a homeless drifter who wanders the northwest French countryside. What makes this exceedingly slow-moving film interesting are both the narrative’s unexpected, thought-provoking moments and the director’s aesthetic rigor. Though tedious and exhausting, Hors Satan never flinches from its stark if uncertain mission. Even art-house devotees will find it tough sledding, but they ought to stick with it.

In the minimal narrative written by Dumont, a mysterious man (David Dewaele) arrives in a quaint, rural community and begins an intimate yet odd relationship with a tomboyish woman (Alexandra Lemâtre) who appears to have been abused by another man (later revealed to be her father). We are unable to decipher the drifter’s intentions—he might be a force for good or something evil or a combination of both, but we gather the woman has “hired” him to protect her.

After the nameless man (called “the Guy” in the credits) commits some excessively violent acts, we may assume he is the Satan of the film’s title, but if one of those acts is killing the man who has been cruel to the young woman, what does that make this “Guy”? And if curing another, even younger woman’s catatonic state involves a method not associated with religious spirituality, we are as unsure as ever.

Later, the Guy has a strange sexual encounter with a female hitchhiker and, around the same time, it appears that his tomboy friend has been killed; thus, we continue to wonder if he is a serial killer, or if he is somehow trying to protect these women. A complete surprise at the end begins to answer the question.

Apart from reworking the styles and themes of his earlier films, Dumont appears to be referencing everything from Rossellini’s “The Miracle” chapter of L’amore (1948), Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951), Dreyer’s Ordet (1955), and even Romain Gary’s Birds of Peru (1968). It is hard to detect a sense of irony in Dumont’s austere probing and questioning, making Hors Satan, for the most part, seem like a relic from a more classical movie age (but then even Rossellini mixed humor and irony into his bleak narrative). It is also difficult to believe the filmmaker is truly a devout atheist (as he claims) after witnessing such an ambiguous and agnostic text. Nevertheless, more conventionally religious types will find the film deeply offensive, for the sex and murder scenes alone, if nothing else. And it is those au courant blood-and-ketchup moments that keep Hors Satan in a contemporary vein—for better or worse.

Viewers who turn (or walk) away, though, will miss Dumont’s ability to transform his deliberately paced story, with its confounding characters and events, into a dense cinematic work. From the many long-shot, long-take widescreen vistas (courtesy of cinematographer Yves Cape) to the purely “natural” audio track (all wind, bird and breathing sounds) to the restrained yet knowing interactions of the actors (a game ensemble, to be sure), Hors Satan becomes the case of a bravely demanding artist trying to achieve something different through the filmic form. Whether or not he succeeds is another question.


Film Review: Hors Satan (Outside Satan)

Controversial yet meditative French drama makes inscrutability its raison d’etre.

Jan 17, 2013

-By Eric Monder


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370278-Hors_Satan_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Director Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus, Twentynine Palms) wrestles yet again with spiritualism and the issues of good and evil in Hors Satan (Outside Satan), a story about a homeless drifter who wanders the northwest French countryside. What makes this exceedingly slow-moving film interesting are both the narrative’s unexpected, thought-provoking moments and the director’s aesthetic rigor. Though tedious and exhausting, Hors Satan never flinches from its stark if uncertain mission. Even art-house devotees will find it tough sledding, but they ought to stick with it.

In the minimal narrative written by Dumont, a mysterious man (David Dewaele) arrives in a quaint, rural community and begins an intimate yet odd relationship with a tomboyish woman (Alexandra Lemâtre) who appears to have been abused by another man (later revealed to be her father). We are unable to decipher the drifter’s intentions—he might be a force for good or something evil or a combination of both, but we gather the woman has “hired” him to protect her.

After the nameless man (called “the Guy” in the credits) commits some excessively violent acts, we may assume he is the Satan of the film’s title, but if one of those acts is killing the man who has been cruel to the young woman, what does that make this “Guy”? And if curing another, even younger woman’s catatonic state involves a method not associated with religious spirituality, we are as unsure as ever.

Later, the Guy has a strange sexual encounter with a female hitchhiker and, around the same time, it appears that his tomboy friend has been killed; thus, we continue to wonder if he is a serial killer, or if he is somehow trying to protect these women. A complete surprise at the end begins to answer the question.

Apart from reworking the styles and themes of his earlier films, Dumont appears to be referencing everything from Rossellini’s “The Miracle” chapter of L’amore (1948), Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951), Dreyer’s Ordet (1955), and even Romain Gary’s Birds of Peru (1968). It is hard to detect a sense of irony in Dumont’s austere probing and questioning, making Hors Satan, for the most part, seem like a relic from a more classical movie age (but then even Rossellini mixed humor and irony into his bleak narrative). It is also difficult to believe the filmmaker is truly a devout atheist (as he claims) after witnessing such an ambiguous and agnostic text. Nevertheless, more conventionally religious types will find the film deeply offensive, for the sex and murder scenes alone, if nothing else. And it is those au courant blood-and-ketchup moments that keep Hors Satan in a contemporary vein—for better or worse.

Viewers who turn (or walk) away, though, will miss Dumont’s ability to transform his deliberately paced story, with its confounding characters and events, into a dense cinematic work. From the many long-shot, long-take widescreen vistas (courtesy of cinematographer Yves Cape) to the purely “natural” audio track (all wind, bird and breathing sounds) to the restrained yet knowing interactions of the actors (a game ensemble, to be sure), Hors Satan becomes the case of a bravely demanding artist trying to achieve something different through the filmic form. Whether or not he succeeds is another question.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Love is Strange
Film Review: Love is Strange

Ira Sachs’ sublimely told and beautifully acted contemporary romantic drama about an aging gay Manhattan couple hitting some unexpected choppy waters is the flip side of his dark, raw and daring Keep the Lights On but every bit as engaging. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina add complexity and class to a classy production that should resonate with quality-seeking filmgoers, gay or straight. More »

The Trip to Italy
Film Review: The Trip to Italy

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon work hard to be funny in this ultimate piece of luxuriant fluff requiring a surfeit of viewer indulgence. More »

Dinosaur 13
Film Review: Dinosaur 13

Doc chronicling the sad plight of dedicated paleontologists, academics and scholars as they hunt and preserve a prized dinosaur fossil is no treat for kids enthralled by dinosaurs or Jurassic Park adventures, but another wake-up call about injustices that slip through a porous legal system and sock the powerless. More »

Moebius
Film Review: Moebius

Crazy is as Kim Ki-duk does in this dialogue-free Korean thriller about castration, incest, rape, sadomasochism and much, much more. While Kim has more on his mind than gross-out exploitation, many male viewers will be hard-put to stick around and find out what that might be. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Expendables 3
Film Review: The Expendables 3

Third go-round for the aging mercenaries, this time fighting a ruthless arms dealer. Sylvester Stallone's B-movie formula is wearing thin. More »

The Giver
Film Review: The Giver

Another bleakly perfect future-world, another teen hero who challenges the status quo. Is this long-gestating project too late to the party? More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here