Friday, June 15, 2012

Hors Satan

For the past one week or so, I have been trying to/seeing just one single film, French filmmaker Bruno Dumont’s latest ‘Hors Satan’ (‘Outside Satan’, 2011, which had its premier at Cannes to divided opinions.). I have strong/strange admiration for Dumont’s painfully slow, opaque and inscrutable films — I have seen all of his films except one (‘Flanders’) — ‘La vie de Jésus’ / ‘The Life of Jesus’ (1997), ‘L'humanité’ / ‘Humanity’ (1999), ‘Twentynine Palms’ (2003), and ‘Hadewijch’ (2009). ‘Twentynine Palms’ remains one of the scariest films I have ever seen, and trust me, the horror here was of a different kind.

Personally, I am a restless person. Films with long takes and static cameras are not for me. If such scenes come up, I’d immediately hit the fast forward button, unless the film in question has something else — a sense of unearthly beauty (the films of Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and the 2008 Austrian thriller ‘Revanche’, by Götz Spielmann) or a sense of tragic immediacy (like the films of Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang; all his films are actually the variations of the same story, all featuring the Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng. As Ming-liang once said, he makes films just to document the personality of his actor, Kang-sheng, for posterity.)

Coming back to ‘Hors Satan’, the film is undeniably beautiful to behold, and has an unconventional soundtrack, which comprises the natural sound of the surrounding, the sound of footsteps, the wind bellowing, a gunshot, but no outside, artificial music. All these make an already opaque film more difficult to understand, and especially so, when the film mentions Satan.

The film features David Dewaele as The Guy, who lives in the outdoors, on the outskirts of a forest somewhere in rural France. Like the film itself, Dewaele’s persona is also an obscure one. We don’t know why he is doing what he is doing — mainly gawking at the horizon, and then falling on his knees to pray. His face betrays no emotions. He doesn’t talk. He finds an admirer in a local girl, who follows him and his “rituals”, try to talk to him, and wants him to have sex with her. He’d do none of it, not to her at least, as we see him have sex with a random stranger. There are other scenes in the film, slow, wordless, which also do not make much sense.

Then the girl dies and she is resurrected, or was she? I don’t know.

For a film made by someone like Dumont, you must trust that there must be a meaning. This is one of the reasons to see the film. The other reason is the photography. It’s so sparse and so open that you feel like you are there with the guy in the open field.

What problematises the film is the mention of Satan in the title. Like Lars von Trier’s ‘Anti-Christ’, this film also (I am not sure) try to associate nature with evil. The forest is where Satan lives whereas God lives in the Church. So, church (society, civilization, order, rules) is/are good, and nature (and all its associations is/are evil.). So, what happens when an agent of the “order” chooses to revere the dark, mysterious chaos of indecipherable nature? I couldn’t find the answer in Bruno Dumont’s film. Still looking.

Writes Rob Nelson in ‘Variety’>
Set in and around a scruffy hamlet near Boulogne sur Mer, the film opens with a guy -- actually, the Guy, as he's known in the credits -- receiving a sandwich from an unseen person behind a door, then kneeling to pray as the sun rises over the marshland. The Guy (David Dewaele) then meets up with the Girl (Alexandra Lematre), and the two walk silently down a long road. At roughly the 10-minute mark, the film's first words -- "I can't take anymore," says the Girl -- will fairly describe the sentiments of any viewer who stumbled in unaware of Dumont's austere provocations.

After awhile the director does reveal what the Girl can't take -- a problem solved by the Guy in what he'd reckoned was the "only way." Dumont loves to introduce patterns, narrative and formal, and then modify them in subtle and sometimes inscrutable ways. The Guy, who might bear a vague resemblance to Jesus were it not for his perpetually glum expression, goes back to the door for another sandwich, which this time we see is given by the Girl. The Guy prays again, too, but accompanied by the Girl, who dresses all in black and sports spiky hair.

Then, disturbing the bucolic landscape, with its mountains, sand and sea, there's a string of violent deaths, most of which Dumont reveals incrementally so that at first (or even later) they appear merely as very nasty injuries. There are also a few events so supernatural that they can only be described as miracles -- religious ones, if you will, but such an interpretation isn't required. Halfway through the pic, the Guy knocks on a door yet again in trade for food -- but this time it's a different door! Among the film's more stubbornly withheld revelations: What's behind door No. 2?

The Complete Review Here.

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