Monday, February 17, 2014

Satan in Plain Clothes

Under the Sun of Satan (1987) - Pialat
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Young priest Donnisan (Gerard Depardieu) is struggling with his faith. His doubt leads him to self-flagellations of the body and mind. His superior views this as arrogance. On the way to another parish by foot, Donnisan has an unnerving encounter with satan in plain clothes. Satan's parting word is that Donnisan is a marked man. He then meets 16-year old harlot, Mouchette (Sandrine Bonnaire) who just murdered her older lover. It is a miracle that he can read through the girl's soul. He is convinced that it's satan's doing, not god's.

All this sounds outlandish and theatrical, but it's a Pialat film. It means everything is straightforward and extremely subtle. Heady, wordy theological exchange between Donnisan and his superior (played by Pialat) can be sometimes too dry. But Pialat never wavers in his no frills approach. Mouchette's storyline takes up the better first half of the film without interruption. The two encounter later in the film with stirring intensity that is quite something to see. The cold look of the film is completely appropriate for this somber, religious themed drama. Depardieu and Bonnaire are outstanding.