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French director Bruno Dumont may not make reli- gious films as such — perhaps it is more true to say, theological ones. Certainly, he makes films in which the big questions are invoked, but in ways less explicitly religious than obliquely metaphysi- cal. In his sixth feature, Outside Satan (Hors Satan), he seems to present a very ambivalent Jesus figure. Yet, until he pulls his big dramatic twist at the

end, Dumont’s drama is grounded in everyday concrete reality. Lead actors who initially seem uncommunicative, even unappealing, prove idio- syncratically compelling in a film which sees Dumont stripping his style to the bones, with ech- oes of his 1997 debut The Life Of Jesus. Some view- ers may find the film infuriatingly elliptical, but it will find admirers among Dumont’s hardcore fol- lowers — and indeed, anyone with a taste for art cinema at its most uncompromisingly gaunt. Set along a sparsely vegetated strip of northern

France, known as the Opal Coast, the film is about a ragged, no longer quite young man (Dewaele), who camps out on a deserted beach; none of the characters is named, and he is listed in the credits as ‘The Guy’. At the outset, he is seen wandering around the vicinity — much walking over hill and dale takes place throughout — and has a habit of falling to his knees, in a prayer-like position.


Fr. 2011. 109mins Director/screenplay Bruno Dumont Production company 3B Productions French distributor Pyramide Distribution International sales Pyramide International, Producers Jean Bréhat, Rachid Bouchareb, Muriel Merlin Cinematography Yves Cape Editors Bruno Dumont, Basile Belkhiri Main cast David Dewaele, Alexandra Lematre, Valérie Mestdagh, Sonia Barthelemy, Juliette Bacquet

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Despite its surface realism, Outside Satan is

anything but naturalistic, conventional rules of behaviour simply do not apply. Whether respond- ing to a killing or an apparent miracle, characters tend to remain resolutely impassive, and actions rarely have normal consequences — though police show up after the stepfather’s killing, no-one appears to quiz The Girl, and The Guy openly car- ries around his rifle. The title remains enigmatic. Is The Guy safe-

guarding this enclosed world against Satan, or is he himself good and evil combined in one form? As events heat up, most startlingly in a bizarre encounter with a female backpacker, the riddles pile up and hyper-laconic dialogue keep us guess- ing not only the answers, but to a great extent, what the questions are in the first place. Using both longueurs and repetitions, Dumont

The Guy has a close bond with a young local

woman (‘The Girl’, Lematre), though he is oddly distant and refuses physical contact. She tells him she is distressed about something, and The Guy obligingly produces a rifle and kills a man, later revealed to be her abusive stepfather. The Guy — also seemingly possessed with heal-

ing gifts — later comes to The Girl’s aid when she mentions the unwanted attentions of a man who guards a local stretch of grassland. In fact, his remedy is surprisingly drastic, but all methods seem legitimate when, like The Guy, you appear to be beyond good and evil.

has a way of holding our attention by refusing us the expected answers, while highlighting marginal ele- ments such as the amplified breathing of the char- acters as they walk. As ever, he casts actors more on the strength of their presence than conventional acting skill, and the saturnine David Dewaele and vulnerable Alexandra Lematre, with her quasi-Goth pallor, make a strikingly against-the-grain duo. Yves Cape’s Scope camerawork explores the

landscapes in downbeat, deglamourised fashion, though there are some strikingly heightened effects along the way — notably a curtain of bush fire which comes visually, and normatively, out of nowhere.

n 14 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival May 18, 2011

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