Bruno Dumont is something of a Cannes regular, having twice won the festival's prestigious Grand Prix. This year he returns with Outside Satan, a story of a strange man living rough in the shrubland along the Cote D'Opale in Brittany. Set amidst a landscape of marshland and sand dunes, it's a sparse, eerie and often disturbing film which looks at the nature of good and evil.
Known for not shying away from challenging and uncomfortable subject matter, Dumont's sixth feature again confirms the director as a distinct voice on the outer limits of contemporary cinema. He spoke to Dazed shortly after the screening of his film in Cannes to discuss mysticism, the devil and his dislike of modern day cinema.
Dazed Digital: What was the starting point for Outside Satan?
Bruno Dumont: The landscape, the place. I wanted to shoot there and tell a story there. First I spent a lot of time walking around and looking, then the story came to me.
DD: Is the role of the landscape a psychogeographic one?
Bruno Dumont: Yes. The landscape is a reflection of the inner life. Since I can't shoot the inner life, all I can shoot is the exterior but I know that when I'm filming outside, I'm filming inside. I can only really touch the inside through the mise-en-scene. So through the mise-en-scene of the outside we can explore the inside.
DD: Tell me more about the central character...
Bruno Dumont: I had already worked with him [ the actor, David Dewaele], he had minor roles in some of my other films and I always knew he had something very powerful and I need powerful elements like that. He's also very virile, I think it's a very virile film. It's not necessarily very lovable for women but I'm not making a film about civilisation, I'm making a primitive film. And I'm a man, so I film like a man. I leave it up to women to make the more feminine films.
DD: You have said for your last film, Hadewijch, you were interested in exploring the idea of mysticism, is that also the case for Outside Satan?
Bruno Dumont: I think this film goes further again. In Hadewijch it was still anchored in a more traditional religion, Catholicism and all that. This one goes beyond that into a more modern approach to the sacred. There's no more God, he's praying but we don't know what to, just to the landscape. It seems like that's where we're at today. We need the sacred but it's just empty.
DD: Where did the title of the film come from?
Bruno Dumont: I had a friend who was possessed by the devil - it's true! She kept saying, 'I've got the devil in me, I've got to get him out'. So that's where this idea came from, it's interesting to me this idea of 'outside satan'. What was troubling with her was that she said, 'No it's true'. I was saying is it some sort of metaphor and she said 'No, no'. She really felt it was true. I found that disturbing. She looked at me and said, 'The devil's in me and it's looking at you'. And she wasn't joking.
DD: Your film is difficult to fit into a genre but it has elements of horror.
Bruno Dumont: I'm definitely interested in horror and it could be in the category of an exorcism type of film. It's not The Exorcist, that's for sure, but I wanted to look at this subject matter in a rudimentary way. Like the scene with the little girl, I was looking at her, asking myself how can I represent the possession?
And I thought, actually it's very simple, I don't need to have the head spinning. I was searching for fantasy but just on the limit between natural and fantasy, not too much. Like the sex scene with the wandering girl, it starts as sort of a banal sex scene and then it goes into something completely different.
DD: You have been associated with a new wave of extreme cinema in France. Why do you think we have seen a rise in such challenging film in recent years?
Bruno Dumont: Because the centre of cinema is so flabby. The centre is what is making me extreme because I'm not actually extreme, I'm more middle. Not just Hollywood cinema but also ordinary French cinema - I have no interest for it, no respect for it. It's all a bunch of shit.