It’s a good thing Criterion is releasing the slow-moving serious-art early Dumont films on blu-ray, because I need to catch up, and this also gives me auteurist justification for absolutely loving this goony miniseries where aliens visit the town of Lil Quinquin and start duplicating the residents. The twitchy racist cop is given more screen time than ever, but I’m into it this time. Random resident Mr. Leleu gets copied, then Coincoin’s brother Dany, his ex-girl Eve, D’nis, then the captain himself. The Captain and Carpentier find out about the clones, are on the case, guns drawn, with the kids at their side, and then instead of solving the alien mystery, the “Cause I Knew” girl returns as a zombie and the series ends with a full-cast singalong.
A musical Joan of Arc story soundtracked by a metal band! It’s a bit of wacky fun – except it’s not, really… you can still detect the serious Dumont of Hors Satan in the dramatic scenes (which stop the movie dead between musical numbers) and the comic Dumont of Quinquin in the playfulness and the casting, and this movie hangs weirdly in between. The two girls playing the lead seem very much like girls, without the fervor and obsession of other cinematic Joans. These Jeannettes are still figuring out what God wants from them, and their own headbanging and awkward dances (to metal songs interrupted by sheep) is filmed at about the same level as the religious figures and miraculous apparitions. It’s a materialist movie, if that’s the right word OR the right understanding of what he’s doing here, focusing mostly on Jeannette (with great help from her uncle D’nis) being unsure and hesitant about the journey she finally undertakes at the end.
Mouseover for headbanging:
Dumont goes even wackier than Lil Quinquin, though this one seemed more coherent, story-wise. I thought it’d be hard to top Quinquin‘s twitchy detective and dullard assistant, but now he’s dressed his lead detectives like Laurel & Hardy, the head cop (the fat one) rolling himself down hills when he’s too tired to walk, and simply inflating and floating away at the end.
Just like Quinquin was named after the lead rapscallion from a poor, possibly criminal family, the French title of this movie was Ma Loute – the nickname of the young man from the only family that seems to live in this picturesque rural town. I suppose they fish, though when a wealthy family arrives at their palatial summer home, we discover what else they do; they kidnap, murder, and eat the rich. The richies are so ludicrously over-the-top (and inbred, it turns out) that it’s tempting to root for the local brutes, except the richies also have ringers in Juliette Binoche and a beautiful/mysterious transgender girl who has a short-lived romance with Ma Loute. Also they’re just too damned silly to wish death upon.
Sicinski describes the richies:
Descending upon the bay for the summer are upper-class cityfolk, bizarre caricatures of humanity sprung from some Gallic division of Monty Python. The Van Peteghems are “led” by spastic, bumbling André (Fabrice Luchini), his prim, lachrymose wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), brother / cousin Christian (Jean-Luc Vincent), a sort of lacquered descendent of brain-addled mystic Johannes from Dreyer’s Ordet; and eventually, Aunt Aude (Juliette Binoche), a wailing, flailing hysteric whose behavior resembles that of a regional dinner theatre actress on nitrous oxide.
I never would’ve guessed that the richie paterfamilias had been in Rohmer films, but there you go: he played the lead in Perceval. Tedeschi is lately known as a director, was also in Nenette & Boni and Saint Laurent. Vincent and Binoche costarred in Dumont’s much more serious Camille Claudel 1915. Ma Loute, his dad The Eternal, his mom, his almost-girlfriend Raph and the two cops just came out of nowhere.
Dumont sure has a great sense of picture composition. The last movie of his I watched was in a familiar mode: long-take elliptical arthouse cinema. But what is this? A comedy with no jokes, a miniseries detective story with no resolution. On the basis of Hors Satan alone, if you told me Dumont made a comedy miniseries, this is pretty much what I would’ve imagined, but the reality of it still comes as a surprise.
All the actors are unknowns, and at least the casting director deserves a mighty round of applause for the interesting new faces on display. I did kinda tire of the extremely twitchy Inspector, who is visiting a coastal town with his dim assistant Lt. Carpentier to solve a murder – then a new murder occurs every episode, all spiraling around the family of P’tit Quinquin, who is generally more interested in hanging out with his racist buddies and bike-riding with his girlfriend Eve.
Premiered at Cannes, watched here during Cannes Month two years later. Film of the year according to Cahiers, so there must be more to it than I noticed… or maybe it’s just their ideal situation of a sharp-eyed arthouse auteur joining the Peak TV revolution.
“All the suspects have been murdered.”
Would have preferred an ending that feels less like a resigned shrug, personally, and fewer antics involving Quinquin’s brother … and I wish I could get that fucking “Cause I Knew” song out of my head for even ten minutes.
Dumont shows us a world bigoted and illiberal enough that most anyone would harbour sentiments similar to those that prompted the murderer to kill … by the time we have reached the final episode, and the fourth murder, there is no hope for identification, and certainly no hope for resolution, much less justice.
Gotta read his great Cinema Scope article again after watching Dumont’s L’humanité.
Meditative drifter David Dewaele (a Dumont regular who died in 2013) and sad teenager with family problems (Alexandra Lemâtre of no other films) are apparently friends (I can’t shake K. Uhlich calling them “Hipster Jesus and Anime Goth Girl”), and in the opening minutes he murders her stepdad for her.
Rest of the film is less story-driven and more mystical than we’d expect from that opening. David is some kind of a healer. Alexandra is pursued by an amorous guard, but she likes the emotionally unavailable David instead. There’s a forest-fire / walk-on-water scene that brings to mind Nostalghia, a disturbing rabies-sex scene, the unexpected rape/murder of Alexandra and her much-more-expected resurrection. What does this mean for the case against her murderer, who gets caught in the previous scene?
Strange sound design – during long shots we hear someone (the cameraman?) breathing loudly. I rather liked this movie, but my critics who’d seen his earlier work did not. S. Tobias: “Another tedious variation on themes that would seem too specific to repeat … His impeccable style has never been in question; it’s his purpose that seems in doubt.” I’m also not sure what it adds up to, but it’s mysterious and pretty enough (Cinematographer Yves Cape also worked on Holy Motors) to keep me happy for a couple hours.
Mom, on encountering her resurrected daughter:
Andréa Picard defends the film in Cinema Scope:
Hors Satan’s elliptical nature and multiple readings are firmly beholden to the film’s form; Dumont has referred to his emphasis on “sensations” and the retrospective (instead of fleeting) meaning of images attained through careful composition and construction. With a striking refinement and reduction of his palette, and a sly sense of humour, Dumont has reached a new level in his filmmaking.
Played in some sub-category of Cannes with Elena, The Day He Arrives and Martha Marcy May Marlene.