Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Sacred and the Profane

With the French Film Festival looming on the horizon, of course the weekly VCU Cinematheque series would show one, too.

We wouldn't want to dilute the cultural blood this week with a stray Russian or Japanese film.

Knowing nothing about the film, this heathen showed up to see Bruno Dumont's "Hors Satan," which means outside Satan, although several times Satan was inside one girl or another.

Sorry to give that away.

During an introduction by Rob, the film professor, he said that Dumont makes films about religion even though he's not a religious man.

Sometimes I go to religious films even though I'm not a religious woman, so we're even.

I wasn't familiar with the director but apparently he's one of those you either love or hate and it didn't take long to see how his long takes and close ups of impassive faces along with very limited dialog and no music whatsoever (none? zut alors!) would be challenging for some people.

Expecting that it would be the youngest members of the audience - the film students - who would get bored first, I was proven wrong when a late arriving group of four adults (including a gallerist I know) got up and left within ten minutes and the duo who sat down in front of me (including a Frenchman I know) soon did the same.

Both had missed the opening scene where a disembodied hand knocks on a door and a sandwich is passed through the door anonymously or they'd never have made it any further than that.

Had they stuck around, they might have been engrossed by the story of a nameless man who comes to a small, seaside village in France and proceeds to behave partly like a savior and partly like a devil.

Sometimes he's protecting a teenager from her abusive stepfather and sometimes he's murdering a man and in this movie, it's all the same.

The ocean scenes of France are beautiful and rugged, the village where the story takes place quaint and overgrown, so it's the people who populate the film who stand out.

And in a Dumont film, that seems to mean a demonically possessed girl, an amorous park ranger, a lusty backpacker and a scary dog owner. You know, your usual French village occupants.

There was a moment of cultural confusion for some of the students when the actress playing the young backpacker stripped down revealing a far from perfect young body (so un-Hollywood-like!) and with (gasp!) unshaven arm pits. The group near me had some trouble processing both.

Personally, I was taken in with how ambiguous the plot was. That and all the wide angle landscape shots, how the director used only direct sound shot on location (many times the wind was sweeping over the mic as characters walked) to give you a sense of place.

Although to those requiring non-stop action and dialog, apparently not a place they wanted to find themselves.

Tant pis. Sometimes you just have to have faith in a talented director and see what you get, even if it ends up confounding you.

Isn't that one of the things the French excel at?

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