4 January 2021

Bruno Dumont's Hors Satan | Outside Satan (2011)

As I mentioned in a recent post, Hors Satan is influenced by Dreyer's Ordet*, although there are many differences: unlike Ordet, Hors Satan is almost entirely set outside; there is very little language and even that – French viewers have complained – is often inaudible because of natural background sounds; there is physical  violence, although little mental violence; no character is named, only a dog.

Le Gars is David Dewaele and La Fille is Alexandra Lemâtre, and the photography of Yves Cape is exceptional. In terms of genesis, the hermit in Dumont's La Vie de Christ was the inspiration: he wanted to make a film about this hermit, although it must be added that Dumont is an atheist. Le Gars sleeps rough in the area to the north of Boulogne-sur-Mer, and le Fort d'Ambleteuse appears in a few of the shots, on one occasion close up.

The fascinating point in this controversial film is that Le Gars can be read as a holy figure, Christ even, or maybe Satan, maybe both. He has a strong platonic relationship with the pale, much younger Goth-type Fille, and although she'd like to make the relationship physical he is opposed to it. At the beginning he kills her sexually abusive stepfather with a rifle which (casually) seems to appear by magic: oddly, the police don't question this odd stranger who is so linked to the murdered father's daughter, but then Le Gars seems to have some kind of (spiritual?) immunity. Later, when La fille mentions that the warden has tried to chat her up, even(!) kissed her, the obviously jealous Gars beats the shit out of him, probably even kills him, but the police don't pay him any mind.

Not only do the wind and the birds make noises, but we hear the breath of any physical action of the characters, including walking around the dunes where Le Gars lives. He not only lives outside time, but outside society, although he's obviously highly respected and cures a young girl, for which his mother thanks him as if he were Christ. For food, he just knocks on doors and is given sandwiches: La Fille even takes in his dirty clothing and hands it back clean. He spends much time praying, looking at the vastness of the ocean and wandering around the dunes with or without La Fille.

There's a fire in one scene, a huge one without any obvious cause. Le Gars walks with La Fille, instructs her to walk on water (in fact on bricks very thinly dividing two small areas of water) and the fire is out. It's a miracle (remember Dreyer)!

There are also noisy human sounds in this film, shouts, shreaks, maybe of torture, maybe of ecstasy, maybe of both. A female hiker asks him the way, he just points without turning to look at her, she joins him, they go through a fence towards the sea, sit down and she produces two beers, puts her arm around his neck and tells him he can fuck her, does he want to? He nods, she strips naked, he remains fully clothed but unzipped and she screams as he fucks her, she foams at the mouth and he kisses her too at the same time as he puts his hand to her throat. Silence. Has he killed her? No, maybe not, as she dives into the water as if she's been reborn again. Later, the police are seen removing a body.

Le Gars is taken away by the police and then released. Then a man neither Le Gars nor La Fille have a liking for is arrested for the murders, his dog (the only being with a name in this film) takes to him, and they both leave the hamlet and walk off to another town. This film is mysterious, inscrutable, exasperating for many, but the meaning can be debated forever: the mark of a truly great film.

*The influence of Robert Bresson is also obvious.

No comments: