Beyond Good and Evil
A nameless drifter (David Dewaele) camps on the desolate beach outside of a small village in Northern France, the locals regarding him with either suspicion or as some sort of quasi-mystic healer. He develops a close bond with a young Goth woman (Alexandre Lematre) who leaves him food. Together, they platonically roam the French countryside, stopping every so often to pray or gaze off into the middle distance or listen to the wind. There’s a lot of gazing into the distance in Hors Satan. And there’s a lot of wind. When the girl reveals her abuse at the hands of her stepfather, the drifter’s response is to shoot him dead. When she’s harassed by the local park ranger (Christophe Bon), he beats him to a pulp. A catatonic girl is exorcised in a scene that feels uncomfortably reminiscent of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle. The drifter engages in animalistic rutting with a passing female backpaker (Aurore Broutin) yet constantly rebuffs his Goth companion’s advances, seemingly content to act as a spiritual and emotional guide to the damaged young woman, almost a guardian angel. But is the drifter a saint or a sinner, an angel or a demon? Or is he simply a force of nature, beyond conventional good and evil?
Austere and elliptical, Bruno Dumont’s work can be a little like deliberately slamming your genitals in a door; punishing but cathartic. Devoid of humour, Hors Satan is a ponderous, almost hypnotic, contemplative meditation on the nature of faith, God and godlessness that treads similar ground to Dumont’s 2009 film Hadewijch (released in the UK in February of 2012) which also featured the charismatic Dewaele in a significant role. An avowed atheist, Dumont’s films grapple with the ambiguities and contradictions of belief and religion, provoking debate and asking questions without overt judgement while never offering the answers Dumont believes the audience should be offering. Unlike Hadewijch however, an examination of religious fanaticism and martyrdom which felt grounded in contemporary reality, Hors Satan is a much more metaphysical work, concerned as much with the search for grace as its attainment, displaying the visual fascination for Nature of a Gallic Malick.
Provocative and staunchly defiant of easy interpretation, Hors Satan is, depending on your view of Dumont and his work (and possibly your mood when viewing the film), either pretentious piffle or the next growth stage of one of Europe’s most divisive and enigmatic auteurs. Maybe it’s both.
David Dewaele, Alexandra Lemâtre, Christophe Bon, Juliette Bacquet, Aurore Broutin and Sonia Barthélémy
1 hour 50 minutes
UK Cinema Release Date:
Friday 4th January 2013