In his “Notes on Cinematography,” the great French director Robert Bresson argued against the use of music in films. “Noises must become music,” he wrote. Many of Bresson’s techniques and ideas — the employment of nonprofessional actors, the adaptation of naturalistic means to spiritual ends — have taken hold among European filmmakers, perhaps nowhere more strikingly than in the work of Bruno Dumont.
Dumont’s latest movie, “Hors Satan” (“Outside Satan”), is full of Bressonian music, provided by a sound mix that emphasizes footsteps trudging along rural roads, the heavy breathing of bodies in motion, the sighing of wind. Human speech is minimal, as are conventional elements of cinematic storytelling.
The two principal characters (David Dewaele and Alexandra Lemâtre) are identified in the credits only as “the Guy” and “the Girl.” They spend a lot of time wandering the French countryside, their mostly silent days punctuated by spasms of violence and eruptions of metaphysical strangeness.
“Hors Satan” leans a little too heavily on its mysteries, teasing the viewer with possible interpretations of what happens between the Girl and the Guy, and also between the two of them and the cosmos they inhabit. Despite its pictorial intensity and the extremity of some of its scenes, the film proceeds in a mood of detachment, turning the suffering physical beings under its scrutiny into abstractions.