Tomorrow at 2:45 PM, the Gene Siskel Film Center will host the U.S. premiere of Bruno Dumont’s Hors Satan (Outside Satan). It’s the most impressive new movie I’ve seen so far this year, and it’s sure to look extraordinary on a big screen. Like L’Humanité (1999) and Hadewijch (2009)—Dumont’s best films prior to this one—Hors Satan hints at religious allegory while adopting a cold, hard perspective that could be described as atheistic. The story concerns a nameless man who arrives in a small coastal town and disrupts the lives of several people in shocking ways. Dumont stages the story as if it were an Old Testament passage imposed upon the present: every deed seems towering, eternal, and frighteningly mysterious. Dumont’s refusal to confirm or refute any of the religious content makes for a productively challenging experience. It’s never clear, for instance, whether the hero is a madman, a prophet, or the devil incarnate. His actions, like Dumont’s, are for us to wrestle with.
The other day I spoke with Film Center programmers Marty Rubin and Barbara Scharres to begin sussing out this major work and its ties to so-called religious filmmaking tradition. Our conversation follows the jump.