Dumont - 2013 06 14 - Outside Satan


French 2011
Dir. Bruno Dumont
Running Time: 110m

A closeup of a gunmetal blue doorframe grounds the figure of a pallid hand. Posed as if gripping an invisible pistol, the hand knocks with the lone anchor knuckle of its trigger finger. The door opens and the hand turns to receive a neatly wrapped sandwich. These are the opening frames of OUTSIDE SATAN, the sixth feature film by acclaimed director Bruno Dumont. His transcendental oeuvre has earned him several Grand Prix from Cannes and the FIPRESCI Prize at Toronto International. Paul Schrader’s 1972 book, TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM: OZU, BRESSON, DREYER, explores what is here meant by transcendental, and it enshrines the auteurs whose names are most often referenced in discussions of Dumont’s work.

"Coincidentia Oppositorum – THE MYTHICAL PATTERN" is a notable text in the Comparative Religion corpus. Its author, Mircea Eliade, there asserts, "Yahweh is both kind and wrathful; the God of the Christian mystics and theologians is terrible and gentle at once." In HORS SATAN, we see many closeups of the hands of such a secular messiah. Seemingly capable of both the miraculous and the maligned, Dumont’s gaunt protagonist wanders the film as an outcast. The stuff of life and death seem to be borne on his breath. Dumont’s steady CinemaScope lens frames the vast, elemental landscapes of rural North-West France behind the rambling vagabond. Dunes and marshes, wild grass and ragweed, sunrise and sunshower, each is an expression of sovereignty, borrowed and lent.

In 2011, after considering THE TURIN HORSE by Dumont’s fellow “Slow Cinema” compatriot, Béla Tarr, I wrote, “The brilliance of a crushing bleakness is: when all lamps have been extinguished, one is left to their own light.” This is true of OUTSIDE SATAN, but the point of darkness varies across the texts. Where Tarr paints with an existentially and stylistically bleak brush, Dumont operates in a kind of ethical darkness, examining naturalistic surfaces with a wide-eyed, investigative patience.

James Quandt, Artforum critic and Senior Programmer of Cinematheque Ontario, was perhaps hasty in including Dumont in the so-called “New French Extremity.” OUTSIDE SATAN elegantly resists being characterized by its transgressions and its redemptions in equal measure.

14 June 2013