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Hors Satan – BFI London Film Festival Day Eight

  Friday 21st October 2011


The last few art house pictures I have caught at this year’s festival have all had pacing issues. Running time is a dramatically important aspect of cinema-viewing and films which outstay their welcome can quickly become tedious for a viewer, thus tainting their personal experience of watching. As a big fan of art house pictures, however, Bruno Dumont’s latest, Hors Satan, has been an anticipated film of mine since this year’s schedule was released; but upon viewing my emotions very quickly changed.

Image courtesy of New Wave Films.

Image courtesy of New Wave Films.

Set along the lifeless vegetated marshland in northern France’s Côte d’Opale, Hors Satan tracks the raggedy and sorrow-drenched guy (David Dewaele) and emotionally damaged local ‘girl’ (Alexandra Lemarte). The pair bond through an act of violence leaving them dependent on one another, and begin to question the morality between good and evil, and whether Christ and Satan are part of the same cause.

Hors Satan is the signature film for why so many have problems with French cinema; I adore features from France but this film embodies every single complaint the vast majority make. The only thing it doesn’t have is posh people smoking whilst slurping a café au lait.

For starters, the movie is an absolute slog. For any other film this year that I have made remarks about running time, I apologise sincerely. This 109-minute ordeal is the cinematic equivalent of walking through mud – it’s excruciating, frustrating and exhausting. Throughout its duration, the film was peppered with walkouts and you could hardly be surprised. I happen to get angry with those who leave and do not give a film a try but here I questioned my own ethos (I made myself stay throughout, however.).

Secondly, everything on-screen feels like an effort; a blank stare, a large exhale of breath, a slow blink – it seems like not even the cast have a remote interest in being there, so why does Dumont expect audiences to be applauding and praising this work when it seems so forced and false?

It is also staggering pretentious, probably the most pretentious entry of 2011 – the minimal sparse dialogue makes awful links to socialism and religious ideals which are equally head-scratching and annoying. At times Hors Satan almost feels like a parody of itself, and looks like it is trying to personify the arthouse genre for those who hate it. One can imagine Dumont saying to his production team “A vacant gaze out across the misty moors means the characters are existential and tonally constructed don’t you know?”

The film does feature some sumptuous cinematography and Dumont is certainly talented behind the camera, but here he allows his eye for detail to consume his abilities to story-tell and any charm or beauty from the landscape soon wears thin.

The performances are non-existent; as previously mentioned the cast seem greatly uninterested in their roles and although to an extent their characters are of this nature, it’s still disappointing for audiences and film fans. I was particularly frustrated by Dewaele who has shown great promise in his fairly short career.

For a film with such a powerful title, Hors Satan is a dismally boring, painstaking and depressing experience. One expected gut and grit, enigmatic performances and a riveting depiction of monumental evil but that was not to be – it is the disappointment film of this year’s festival unfortunately.

Verdict: •

Chris Haydon

Read more reviews from the 55th London Film Festival here

Image courtesy of New Wave Films.

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