Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Director: Bruno Dumont
Screenwriter: Bruno Dumont
Starring: David Dewaele as Le gars, Alexandra Lemâtre as Elle, Christophe Bon as Le garde, Juliette Bacquet as La gamine, Aurore Broutin as La routarde, Sonia Barthélémy as La mère de la gamine, Valérie Mestdagh as La mère, Dominique Caffier as L'homme au chien
Provocative French filmmaker Dumont pushes boundaries even further with an astonishing approach to the Christian narrative (the title translates as Outside Satan), mixing the sacred and profane to shake up audiences and get us thinking. Dumont has never made an easy movie and, by asking us reconsider both our beliefs and the whole concept of cinema, he continually provides exhilarating film experiences for adventurous audiences. But mainstream viewers should be careful of his bold and elusive style, especially in this film.
The film centres on a drifter (Dawaele) who's lurking in the scrublands outside a small coastal town in northern France. He seems to be trying to help the locals, and when he meets a woman (Lematre) who's being abused by her stepfather, he steps in and shoots him dead. The woman becomes his devoted disciple, and clearly wants to be more than that, although he rebuffs her advances. But she follows him as he helps a sick girl (Bacquet), exorcises a backpacker (Broutin) in an unconventional way, and walks on water to face a raging wildfire. And whenever anyone does something violent, his reaction is even more drastic.
Most of the incidents here are variations on scenes from the Gospels, but with a creepy twist that combines acts of kindness with rough justice, among other shocking things. Depending on how you feel about religion, much of this will probably seem blasphemous, although Dumont is merely challenging slippery cultural ideas of justice in which guilt and innocence depend on the person's intentions. And by using Bible stories to do this, he manages to catch us completely off guard at every turn.
The film is shot in Dumont's usual minimalist style, avoiding dialog to focus on the inexpressive faces of actors who never look like movie stars. Indeed, much of the film feels rather squalid, but these rough-looking people and harsh landscapes have raw beauty. Dumont keeps everything slow and vague, with no music at all and long takes that simply link the characters with the bleak outdoor settings. No, this film will drive mainstream viewers mad (in several ways), but more thoughtful fans will be challenged by Dumont's use of religious themes to explore some haunting issues in the world around us.