25-28 February; DCA
Bruno Dumont’s third feature film, Hors Satan, [trans.Outside Satan] (2011) sees the director dispense with the familiar elements of narrative and character development, making this his most radical and uncompromising work since his debut, la Vie de Jesus(1996). Dumont’s writing process is unique in that each story he brings to the screen is essentially an adaptation of a novel length treatment of an idea. This approach enables the director to immerse himself completely in the world of his characters. Dumont seeks to replicate the complexity of their emotions through the use of landscape and setting inspired by the North Coast of France and, in particular, the Cote d’ Opale, where Dumont grew up.
The film follows the relationship between “la fille” (the girl, played by Alexandre Lematre) and David Dewaek as “le gars” (which translates from French simply as ‘the guy’), an outsider who makes a home for himself in the coastal dunes on the outskirts of Boulogne. Using a wide-angle lens, Dumont employs the use of negative space throughout the film to explore the concepts of freedom and morality. Le gars’ retributive understanding of justice is enacted upon those who appear to threaten what remains of the townspeople’s innocence. As an outsider, le gars is free to come and go as he pleases and Dumont seeks to convey the anxiety that surrounds this freedom, a uniquely philosophical idea which is best explored through the film’s use of space.
The film is influenced by the realist aesthetic of filmmaker Roberto Rosselini; in particular The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), which Dumont’s study of the modern incarnation of the saint is much indebted to. Perhaps the notion of le gars as a saint is emblematic of what Dumont envisioned for a film depicting what he describes as “the new world; the profane world.”
One of the film’s key scenes, and the first of many miracles performed by le gars, bears a similarity to Andrei Tarkovsky’s (1983) film Nostalghia in which a religious madman dedicates his life to making the successful transition across a drained swimming pool without the light of his candle blowing out, hoping that in doing so, he will be able to save humanity from its doomed fate. In Hors Satan the opposite applies; after discovering a forest fire, le gars promises la fille that, if she makes it across the pond without falling, the fire will be extinguished. Perhaps the film’s characters are a point of identification for the filmmaker himself: in an interview, Tarkovsky describes how “the artist has a spiritual or religious role to play” mediating “between the divine and the human” and calling “for moral action, even transformation”. Art does not have to prove, explain or provide answers; instead, its “influence has to do with moral and ethical upheaval.” This reads like a disclaimer for Dumont’s style of filmmaking which fails to answer any of the questions we have remaining at the end of the film.
Whilst Hors Satan might not be the most technically accomplished film cinematically, it is an extremely important film and one that encourages the active participation of the audience. By giving the viewer no real insight into the motivations of the character, Dumont forces us to reject the indifference we experience in response to his narrative. The director’s decision to cast non-professional actors adds to the sense of emotional detachment which the characters experience in relation to their own environments. However, Hors Satan’s emotional geography and its temporal naturalism creates a contemplative space which enables the audience to engage with the film’s main themes and to consider the complex nature of these ideas in relation to our own lives.