Twice a Cannes Jury Prize winner but never a crowd-pleaser, the divisive Bruno Dumont is one of those peculiar art house auteurs whose films people can't wait to walk out on. So fans and detractors alike will find much to savor in his sixth feature, this airy tale of an unnamed vagrant (David Dewaele) wandering the coastal dunes of northwestern France and doling out dubious miracles, with help from a pallid proto-goth tomboy (Alexandra Lemâtre) who becomes his acolyte. Subsequently, it becomes clear that an abusive stepfather is what she couldn’t take anymore, and that the Guy—as credits later call Dewaele's drifter—keeps a shotgun handy for just such occasions. Otherwise, the vagabond lacks any apparent agenda. Between long walks with the tomboy through the brush, he finds himself bludgeoning a deer or a passive-aggressive park ranger, and taking up a backpacker's blankly amatory advances by making her howl and foam at the mouth. (Viewers who got through earlier Dumont films will recall his zeal for unpleasant sex.) Now and then, he'll also be seen dropping to his knees and fixing solemn gazes on the middle distance. Of course, it's hard to know how to read this proneness to genuflection. Viewed skeptically, Outside Satan merely reheats fixations dating back to Dumont's 1997 debut, The Life of Jesus, suggesting that an artist formerly undecided on whether to depict demons or messiahs has finally decided not to decide. Even so, his skills abide. In Dewaele, he has found the right man for whatever job this is, a mesmerizingly impassive performer with the face of so many sinewy, sinister Renaissance Christs.
Bruno DumontDavid Dewaele, Alexandra Lematre, Valerie Mestdagh, Sonia Barthelemy, Juliette Bacquet, Christophe Bon, Dominique Caffier, Aurore BroutinBruno Dumont3B ProductionsNew Yorker Films