An Outside Satan in rural France
by Domenico La Porta
16/05/2011 - Gallic helmer Bruno Dumont is making his fourth visit to the Cannes Film Festival, this time with Outside Satan [trailer], which runs in Un Certain Regard, about a young man (David Dewaele) who lives like a caveman, poaching and lighting fires near a hamlet on France’s northern Côte d'Opale. He is fed by the daughter of a nearby farmer (Alexandra Lematre), with whom walks along the dunes and sometimes meets in secret.
More than ever the director of Flanders [trailer] (Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes 2006) has made a film about emotions rather than ideas. Dumont believes the audience must experience these feelings based on the elements he displays: landscapes, physical presence, and sound. It is the effects produced on the audience that will generate their own ideas without the director having to intervene with suggestions.
Of Dumont’s six films, Outside Satan has the fewest shortest shots and the most close-ups. In an effort to radicalise his directing style, the director has chosen to focus on framing, placing marks on the ground so that the actors are “better filmed” in natural settings, to which the film does great justice. They serve as the source of the story, which drifts along the mystical frontier between good and evil. The path is never clearly defined.
The boy, an animal-like hermit with a strange face, is like an illegal immigrant coming and going from one side of an invisible border to the other. During awe-inspiring wide-angle shots, he crosses the screen from one end to another. He says little and yet he expresses himself. Like his main character, Dumont says he needs the force of nature to intensify scenes in which very simple things occur that can be explained without dialogue.
As with the French writer George Bernanos, who has had a significant influence on the director and the film’s title, it is by fixing the ordinary that the supernatural becomes free. The extraordinary is conjured up by filming a miracle without the usual artifices of cinematographic language, simply using a strong visual vocabulary that alternates between very wide angles and close-ups, as well as a firm mastery of high and low angle shots.
Outside Satan is not a straightforward film, it poses questions of the audience during and after the screening, yet Dumont insists: “It’s not up to me to explain the message.” Consequently, Outside Satan is raw, similar to how nature was to the first humans so that they could integrate it in their stories. Dumont’s film makes skilful use of ellipses and places great trust in the viewer’s ability to interpret meaning.
(Translated from French)