Contemplative religious drama from Bruno Dumont, director of Hadewijch
For an avowedly atheistic director, the uncompromising French auteur Bruno Dumont seems strangely fascinated by questions of religious faith and the mysterious workings of grace. Following on from Hadewijch, a provocative examination of contemporary martyrdom, comes the belated release of Hors Satan, a metaphysical fable rooted in the mundane ‘real’ world of the Opal Coast, a stretch of French coastline between Boulogne and Calais.
Dumont is a film-maker who shows little interest in the traditional grammar of cinematic story-telling, nor in providing psychological explanations for the perverse behaviour of his characters, who tend to be ‘played’ by non-professionals. Here an unnamed drifter (the gloomy-faced David Dewaele from Hadewijch) has pitched camp outside a sparsely populated hamlet, and is befriended by a troubled teenaged girl (Alexandra Lematre). The two tramp across the fields on long walks, and pray in the open air alongside the cattle, with the vagabond apparently blessed with healing powers. His methods however for solving problematic situations, whether it involves a catatonic adolescent, an abusive step-father, or a libidinous hitch-hiker, are extreme, to say the least.
Shot in contemplative widescreen compositions by Dumont’s regular cinematographer Yves Cape, the music-free Hors Satan is a film which poses lots of questions, rather than provides any definitive answers. Do God and the Devil both co-exist in the male protagonist? Can the various miracles witnessed by the viewer be rationalized? And why do some of the most significant events within the film occur off-screen?
Hors Satan won’t win over any new converts to the Dumont cause: on the basis of six films, he appears to be an artist uninterested in working across a range of genres or styles, yet equally he’s perhaps the closest European cinema comes to upholding the magnificent tradition of Robert Bresson.
Selected release from Fri 4 Jan.