Director: Bruno Dumont
Starring: David Dewaele, Alexandra Lemâtre
Duration: 110 min.
Beside the English Channel, along the Côte d'Opale, near a hamlet, with its dunes and marshes, lives a mysterious wanderer from nowhere who struggles along, poaches, prays and builds fires.
Outside Satan is a film written and directed by Bruno Dumont. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Dumont, who is one of my favorite active filmmakers, returns to his beloved Nord-Pas-de-Calais—the region where he grew up, and the picturesque setting of most of his previous films—to deliver an entirely mysterious and hypnotic effort that follows a quiet nameless wanderer played by David Dewaele. A Christ-like figure who possesses unexplained powers, he lives off the land and the charity of local residents.
As expected, and a warning to anyone not familiar with Dumont, this is a deliberately slow and pensive film with very limited dialogue. Much of it's running time is devoted to scenes of nothing but The guy and she (Alexandra Lemâtre)—none of the characters are given names and are listed in the credits with generic titles like 'The guy', 'she', and 'the guard'—casually walking across the landscape, or staring blankly off into the distance.
Long time Dumont cinematographer Yves Cape, who is by now a master of capturing the immeasurable natural beauty of the vast hills, valleys, and windswept coasts of this setting, does so with a steady and often distant, wide-lens. There is a thoughtful manner in which the shots are framed, sometimes close up on the unemotive faces of the characters, and sometimes from a long and wide vantage that allows them to become slowly moving specks in the background.
He also uses sound to great effect, directly recording the ever present wind, bird chirps, and natural din with an immersive clarity. The sound always closely follows the characters, capturing every hushed breath and footstep, even as the camera lingers behind. It's a wonderful effect that spares us from the shaky hand-held camerawork that normally accompanies such intimate audio.
The story itself is ambiguously mystical and spiritual, and true to the director's form, the action is at times shockingly explicit and highly disturbing. Dewaele's character is not exactly the typical picture of Satan either. He is a strange and intriguing figure, capable of extraordinary deeds, and from the side of the story we are shown, it would seem mostly good ones.
Overall a genuinely powerful and unflinching picture, it fits well as a companion to the director's previous film Hadewijch, one that explores evil acts done in the name of God. Though, I think one's enjoyment of Outside Satan will depend a lot on whether or not you are a fan of Bruno Dumont's distinct style; and if you haven't seen any of his films yet, then this one is as good an introduction as any.
— Bonjour Tristesse