Hors Satan (2011)

13 08 2012

I have yet to read anything about this film without a mention of it being mind-numblingly depressing, too cold, too slow, and so on. In other words, it’s a Bruno Dumont movie. It’s that special kind of slow miserableness that definitely shares elements with other filmmakers, but Dumont has continued to make it his own. At this point, it’s kind of becoming a self-parody. Throw in some religious stuff, some jarring violence, a disturbing sex scenes, and put it all against the backdrop of rural France. That’s what this movie is and yeah, it’s absolutely beautiful at times but it is frustratingly dry at others.

To Dumont’s credit, this could be his best-looking film. He returns to the countryside again and sure it’s dire (intentionally) but his strange fascination with these small towns is interesting, but in this particular case, it loses some of its momentum after the eighteenth lingering shot on top of a hill. It might have worked better if the content wasn’t so frustratingly mundane. I’m not talking about the “mundane of everyday life” thing. That’s fine, but the film’s narrative thrust lies in the nameless protagonist being both a Christ figure and a Satanic one. It’s the same type of half-baked philosophy that feels like the work of an undergrad who has just finished his first philosophy class. Sure, Dumont comes off as sincere, but this is where the film begins to feel a little silly.

The film manages to be watchable because I guess Dumont hints at a story about a horny teenager, which might be the exact opposite of a Biblical parable. The girl (that’s what she’s credited as) is deeply in love with the man (what he’s credited as) but the latter resists the aggressive advances of the former. This is interesting to me, even as it serves as another balancing point between the “good” vs “evil” struggle within the leading male. His actions aren’t provided with motivations, which is good, but there’s a certain line where they devolve from a mysterious and interesting characterization to something so bizarre it just seems like an arthouse parody.

The best example of this is a scene where the man gives a stranger directions. She seems charmed by his helpfulness and almost immediately offers sex. A bizarrely picturesque sequence turns to a graphic and disturbing one. I’m not one to discredit a filmmaker for being daring with something, well, gross but it seems utterly forced here. The sex becomes cartoonishly disturbing. Just in case you forgot for a minute this was a Big Serious Art film. It feels even more evident since these are all the same moves from Dumont. In a weird twist, it makes the film kind of forgetable. How ironic, considering these jarring moments are, to paraphrase Dumont himself, “a wake up call to the audience” but they seem like old hat at this point.

It’s difficult to write about this film without seeming negative. It’s a competent movie, and it looks absolutely stunning, but there is a very strong sense of Dumont himself just sleepwalking through the process. One could predict the direction of his films at this point. At least his previous film, Hadewijch showed us something new. Sure, it wasn’t out of character but it didn’t feel like a “best of” which is the perfect description of this film. It sounds harsh, but then again,Dumont is very talented so it’s still an experience I would recommend. 

Some Days Are Better Than Others (2010)

13 08 2012

I saw a preview for this a long time ago and was impressed by the fact that it seemed that, in spite of its obviously cutesy and twee intentions, it had some aesthetic appeal. The dreamy soundtrack helped too, but really the film just serves as an extended trailer. It’s too precious to be truly as humanist as it wants to be. Plus, can a film that’s misanthropic really be humanist. There’s a annoying snide, Alexander Payne-esque mocking of all peripheral characters. It seems that everyone outside of a small circle are just caricatures of people you’d meet at a terrible college party. It’s impressive but a completely forgettable experience.

I will give director Matt McCormick some credit. He does manage to create some very impressive visuals, something the like-minded Payne has never really accomplished outside of his inherently picturesque The Descendants. There are a few truly awe-inspiring photographic moments, which mesh perfectly with the Matthew Cooper soundtrack. This is when the film is at its very best. However, once someone opens their mouth, it begins to fall apart. Carrie Brownstein is solid, but James Mercer is kind of grating. It can’t really help that their left dealing with dialogue that is either a forced attempt at naturalism or uber-pretentious pondering. Does anyone ever really ask questions like, “How long does it take to get over a broken heart?”

Dialogue such as the line mentioned above is floating throughout the film. When the movie wants to be serious, it feels like a Pacific Northwest version of American Beauty. Remember how that film’s poetic attempts are now seen almost entirely as comical? Well, they’re subtle compared to some of the musing suggested here. There’s a completely obnoxious story involving James Mercer’s step grandfather narrating some film about soap. In addition, this character’s presence is only served to remind us that Mercer’s character is really, really a good guy. No seriously, he’s helping an old guy. How life-affirming, how positive, how humanist.

I guess that’s the film’s biggest problem. It tries to create some interesting “character” driven stuff, but it all seems so positively manufactured. It’s even more upsetting considering the film tries so hard to reveal itself in a slow, natural manner but then the actual drama is so blah. One of the few interesting parts is that James Mercer’s Eli might have a really deep crush on a friend he’s living with, but that ultimately becomes a complete snooze when he talks about it in his “meaningful” conversation with his step grandfather. It’s a film about people that it really wants you to like via their alienation, which is really just a situation where they are surrounded by comically stupid people. It had a chance to be something special, but it’s ultimately just a conventional cutesy, twee movie slowed down to be arty.