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Cannes 2011. Bruno Dumont's "Outside Satan"

Updated through 5/19.

"French director Bruno Dumont may not make religious films as such — perhaps it’s truer to say, theological ones." Jonathan Romney for Screen: "Certainly, he makes films in which the big questions are invoked, but in ways less explicitly religious than obliquely metaphysical. 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 idiosyncratically compelling in a film that sees Dumont stripping his style to the bones, with echoes of his 1997 debut The Life of Jesus."

Rob Nelson for Variety: "Maddening, pretentious, hypnotic and transcendent in roughly equal measure, Dumont's minimalist study of an oddball poacher and the farm girl who keeps him company contains only a dozen 'dramatic' events, but they all register indelibly, such is the director's talent for making the minor appear momentous — and maybe religious…. Like Dumont's Twentynine Palms and Life of Jesus (give or take the Cannes Grand Prix-winning L'Humanite), Outside Satan flirts with all-out absurdity, as if managing to keep it at bay will be the director's own miracle, highly subject to interpretation."

"The film is situated in a perfect landscape for a Dumont film," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt. "The Côte d’Opale on the Atlantic Coast of northwestern France is a wind-swept, desolate marshlands of government protected dunes and woods. Here a strange recluse identified in press notes as The Guy (David Dewaele) lives in those woods, building nightly fires, poaching game and acting as guardian angel to The Girl (non-pro Alexandra Lamatre). In return, she hands him occasional sandwiches."

"The stranger manifests a violent side, and yet it's ambiguous whether he's a murderer or a healer." Barbara Scharres for the Chicago Sun-Times: "He frequently falls to his knees in private, cryptic ritual of prayer, with his eyes fixed on the horizon. The girl has begun to follow him in this. She prays with her hands cupped and her arms outstretched. It's unclear to whom or what they are praying. One day the girl is overtaken by evil, and the man performs a miracle."

"I've never been a particular fan of Dumont's bizarre sensibility, which seems to argue that nothing is truly spiritual unless it's ugly, damaged, or depraved," writes Mike D'Angelo at the AV Club, "but he'd seemed to turn a corner of some kind with his excellent previous film, Hadewijch, even casting an actor (Julie Sokolowski) capable of giving a performance rather than merely embodying a physiognomy. Alas, he's reverted to form…. It's not terribly hard to fashion a religious allegory from the surreal elements of this film, but it isn't especially rewarding either, given how pointedly unpleasant and flatly declarative its surface forever remains. If you dug Life of Jesus, Humanité, and Flanders, however, I can all but guarantee it'll be right up your alley."

For the Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth, Outside Satan is the "dumb, clumsy cousin" to Malick's The Tree of Life. "Of course, interpretation is everything, but reading between the long static shots, minimal dialogue and brief bursts of 'action,' Dumont seems to posit that sometimes evil/violence is a necessary corrective in a world where good and evil unfold at will, without anyone holding the scales that keep them balanced."


With 19 votes in, as of this writing, the Micropsia average is 5.94.

Updates: Glenn Heath Jr at the House Next Door: "After a while, it's not entirely clear if we are already in a specific version of hell: a panoramic fire engulfing a hill, acts of supposed 'resurrection,' and a cryptic walk across a bisected pond. Symbolism and allegory are plot points in Hors Satan, yet the ideas behind these moments are, like the putrid pond that makes several appearances, consistently muddled."

"Hors Satan is absolutely sincere, even if just looks sincerely confused by the end," finds Simon Abrams in a dispatch to the L.

Updates, 5/18: "It's always 'Afternoon of the Living Dead' with Dumont," writes the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris. "Often, his bucolic zombies can get themselves embroiled into great realist astonishments, as they did in his second film, L'humanité, which won the Grand Prix in 1999, and proceeded to divide us all over whether that film and his other realist epics said 'major filmmaking' or 'empty form.' Like some athletes, Dumont has to be taken movie by movie. His previous film, Flanders, was a fiasco, but I like the new one. It's a Christ-on-Earth story, in which Christ dresses like a Scottish barfly and looks like he could be the pimp in an old Pat Benatar video, which is to say he's something of a devil, too." Dumont's "sense of the divine captivated me even as it made me laugh at its ridiculousness: people appear to suffer in Outside Satan in order for the holy barfly to work his magic. Dumont's way with a long shot is still a thrill. His way with people is still very George Romero."

"Of Dumont's six films, Outside Satan has the fewest [short] shots and the most close-ups," notes Domenico La Porta at Cineuropa. "In an effort to radicalize his directing style, the director has chosen to focus on framing, placing marks on the ground so that the actors are 'better filmed' in natural settings, to which the film does great justice. They serve as the source of the story, which drifts along the mystical frontier between good and evil. The path is never clearly defined."

Update, 5/19: "Hors Satan is not that different from L'Humanité, in terms of either content or execution, but it's a far more resonant film," writes Jonathan Romney for the London Review of Books. This is "'slow cinema' at its rawest and most austerely uncommunicative, and you either go for it or you really, really don't. But Dumont barely cares to persuade or impress us. At once utterly direct and infuriatingly opaque, the film is as close as cinema gets these days to Kafkaesque parable."

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