Hors Satan (2011)

13 08 2012

I have yet to read anything about this film without a mention of it being mind-numblingly depressing, too cold, too slow, and so on. In other words, it’s a Bruno Dumont movie. It’s that special kind of slow miserableness that definitely shares elements with other filmmakers, but Dumont has continued to make it his own. At this point, it’s kind of becoming a self-parody. Throw in some religious stuff, some jarring violence, a disturbing sex scenes, and put it all against the backdrop of rural France. That’s what this movie is and yeah, it’s absolutely beautiful at times but it is frustratingly dry at others.

To Dumont’s credit, this could be his best-looking film. He returns to the countryside again and sure it’s dire (intentionally) but his strange fascination with these small towns is interesting, but in this particular case, it loses some of its momentum after the eighteenth lingering shot on top of a hill. It might have worked better if the content wasn’t so frustratingly mundane. I’m not talking about the “mundane of everyday life” thing. That’s fine, but the film’s narrative thrust lies in the nameless protagonist being both a Christ figure and a Satanic one. It’s the same type of half-baked philosophy that feels like the work of an undergrad who has just finished his first philosophy class. Sure, Dumont comes off as sincere, but this is where the film begins to feel a little silly.

The film manages to be watchable because I guess Dumont hints at a story about a horny teenager, which might be the exact opposite of a Biblical parable. The girl (that’s what she’s credited as) is deeply in love with the man (what he’s credited as) but the latter resists the aggressive advances of the former. This is interesting to me, even as it serves as another balancing point between the “good” vs “evil” struggle within the leading male. His actions aren’t provided with motivations, which is good, but there’s a certain line where they devolve from a mysterious and interesting characterization to something so bizarre it just seems like an arthouse parody.

The best example of this is a scene where the man gives a stranger directions. She seems charmed by his helpfulness and almost immediately offers sex. A bizarrely picturesque sequence turns to a graphic and disturbing one. I’m not one to discredit a filmmaker for being daring with something, well, gross but it seems utterly forced here. The sex becomes cartoonishly disturbing. Just in case you forgot for a minute this was a Big Serious Art film. It feels even more evident since these are all the same moves from Dumont. In a weird twist, it makes the film kind of forgetable. How ironic, considering these jarring moments are, to paraphrase Dumont himself, “a wake up call to the audience” but they seem like old hat at this point.

It’s difficult to write about this film without seeming negative. It’s a competent movie, and it looks absolutely stunning, but there is a very strong sense of Dumont himself just sleepwalking through the process. One could predict the direction of his films at this point. At least his previous film, Hadewijch showed us something new. Sure, it wasn’t out of character but it didn’t feel like a “best of” which is the perfect description of this film. It sounds harsh, but then again,Dumont is very talented so it’s still an experience I would recommend. 

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