MRR Review: "Outside Satan"

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In a village on the French Opal Coast, a drifter engages in a complicated relationship with a young woman who has suffered abuse.
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MRR Review: "Outside Satan"

-- Rating: Unrated
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: Jan. 18, 2013
Directed by: Bruno Dumont
Genre: Drama

Foreign films are often viewed as being slow to engage viewers, especially when the films retain the language and visual styles of their homeland. French writer and director Bruno Dumont is known for creating films that border on barbarity due to their extreme violence and adult matter, and "Outside Satan" continues in that same vein. The piece is likely to attract fans of drama who enjoy enigma and the search for answers more than the answers themselves. Those seeking a more romantic or clear-cut experience may not enjoy the movie as much, despite its beautiful visuals and stunning cinematography.

"Outside Satan" is a slice-of-life film about a strange unnamed drifter (David Dewaele), billed as Le gars, "The guy." His interactions with Elle (Alexandra Lematre), "Her," and the people of a nearby hamlet in the Cote d'Opale region of France take center stage. Most of the other cast members have little effect on the film itself, serving only as plot elements or a part of the backdrop, with the notable exception of Le garde (Christophe Bon), "The guard." The story follows Le gars' obsession with Elle and how he reacts with others in her life. From murdering Elle's father to Le gars' battle with Le garde, who covets Elle, every interaction is either one of passionate brutality or unspeakable redemption.

The acting in "Outside Satan" is excellent. Dewaele creates a striking character who may represent the Devil or Jesus or both, depending on the scene. Lematre's Elle is a sympathetic character who seems to care more for Le gars than he does for himself. Bon brings a startling sense of command and power to the character Le garde and serves as an excellent foil or antihero in his own right.

The film's cinematography is one of its most impressive qualities. Brutal actions are shown with in-your-face camera angles. The camera pans to some of the most evocative and beautiful landscapes likely to have appeared on the silver screen. The lighting captures each moment perfectly, whether the scene is a hideous event featuring traumatic injuries or a moment of introspection that provides a chance for moviegoers to catch a collective breath. Transitions in the film are handled with similar elegance and grace. The camera only switches between scenes quickly when viewers themselves would be tempted to look away from the incredible levels of violence that appear on the screen, using smoother and sometimes seamless transitions in more intimate moments. The audio is of special note. Very few lines of dialogue are employed throughout the film, leaving the ambient noises of Southern France or the soul-rending cries of those facing death the only audio moviegoers are likely to remember. These are captured with the same elegance and powerful effect as the movie's many startling or beautiful images.

"Outside Satan" is very much an art-film piece. Dumont fills the roles of both writer and director admirably. He manages to avoid many of the traps that those filling the combination of roles tend to fall into. The writing is clearly designed to use as few words as possible and impart much of the film's meaning into those words. Each action is deliberate. Each scene is crafted with an amazing sense of gravity, lending even greater weight to the film as a whole. This is all likely the result of experienced writing and a deep knowledge of French art films.

Dumont's direction does suffer the occasional hiccup due to his role as the writer, however. In many places, it may seem that the characters, even the cameras, know something that the viewer does not. This may be maddening to some viewers who are used to having answers to the questions posed by a film, even if that is achieved through twists, such as those employed by directors in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan. The writing is still top-notch, but the delivery of the tale to the viewer is the province of skilled direction. The incredibly slow pacing of the film is suitable to an art piece. Moviegoers may feel that they have to wrest each clue from the movie's grasp. This is likely intentional, but may not translate well for foreign viewers. Dumont, nonetheless, does wonderful things with the camera and actors, creating a movie that is as much a riddle as a story.

"Outside Satan" challenges moviegoers to see beyond the brutality and raw, primal power and discover the seemingly metaphysical secrets hidden within. This film is likely to find a home with art-house fans and those who have enjoyed the style of Dumont in the past. Some moviegoers may be off-put by the exceptional violence, however. The piece is a good choice for those looking for a quiet evening of contemplation.

Rating: 3 out of 5