The Film (3/5)
Donissan (played by Gerard Depardieu) is a lonely and self-loathing priest who is questioning his faith and God’s real impact in the world. He is slowly becoming consumed by his doubts. His Dean, Menou-Segrais (the director himself Maurice Pialat) is trying his best to keep Donissan afloat, and prove his destiny is worth living for. One day, on a journey to another church, Donissan is confronted by Satan himself and is told he is now a cursed. Donissan now has a reason to live just as faith steps in when he meets a dangerous woman named Mouchette (Sandrine Bonnaire), who has murdered the father of her bastard child.
Maurice Pialat is a tough director to like. I can see the beauty in his work, but for the most part there’s always an unpleasant tension around his work. Based on Georges Bernanos’s 1926 novel of the same name, UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN isn’t interested in answering any questions about faith or evil. The film is very matter of fact with its bleak view of humanity. This is mostly not an issue, but there are some noticeable problems. The movie has some downright terrible editing. No establishing shots to be seen, just rushed hard cuts between scenes. This goes from confusing to annoying pretty quickly. One of the worst is a hard cut from Donissan to Mouchettte’s face. The second huge problem is the movie’s pace. While staying slow the whole time, the arrangement of scenes becomes tedious as two long dialogue scenes going on for far too long. We’re left with an unbalanced story where it randomly switches between stories, and it makes me question if the editing was rushed.
Thankfully the movie is saved by good performances all around. Gerard Depardieu gives a studied and muted performance that shows his loneliness and self-doubt. Depardieu just becomes fascinating to watch as every scene he gives a new character quirk. This especially helps during the dip in pacing during the never eating second act. Sandrine Bonnaire plays a pretty vile two-faced girl, who is quickly unaffected by shooting a man point blank with a shotgun. She is on fire here, and she manages to keep me on edge during the movie. Maurice Pialat makes an ok actor in the film, but a lot is to be desired. Some scenes he gives poetic speeches, but ultimately we get a lot of blank stares from him.
UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN also has an odd mix of styles. The movie is mostly ordinary with naturalistic lighting and nice picturesque views, but it slowly injects some supernatural bits. All of scenes with Satan have an off kilter feeling, and it makes me wonder what it would be like with a different director. UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN is more polished then Maurice Pialat ‘s earlier films, but something is still missing. Despite his faults, he does know how to milk tension out of some of the simplest scenes. He just needed to understand more basic editing tricks,
Cohen has done it again with an another marvelous transfer and sound mix. The movie is presented in a 2.0 Dolby Digital French track. There’s no noticeable hiss or crackles. The track has easy to read English subtitles. The film is given a wonderful 1080p HD transfer. The color scheme is pretty muted with plenty of greys, but the transfer makes them attractive. What colors are there look great, browns and dark blues have an added shine. There’s some film grain but no damage or film burns.
All the extras are on the second Blu-ray disc. Unlike the first volume in the Films of Maurice Pialat, we just get the one movie, but it gets the deluxe treatment extra wise. First up is an interview with actor Gerard Depardieu, looking a little unkempt. He has good things to say about Mr. Pialat, but during the interview he keeps messing with his microphone, so there’s plenty of hiss. Next interview is with cinematographer Willy Kurant. There’s also an interview with production designer Katia Wyszkor. We get 57 minutes and 29 seconds of deleted scenes hosted by its editors and the writer and 14 minutes and 34 seconds of behind the scenes footage with the crew in action. Both the original theatrical and 2015 re-release trailers are included. Wrapping up the set is a booklet with production stills and cast list.
UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN is a mixed bag. On one hand it’s fascinating character study with one of France’s most popular actors, but on the another hand its pacing and editing made me constantly check my watch. Not a bad film, just really troubled. For those interested, Cohen releases the film on a lovely Blu-ray with lots of extras. Cautiously recommended.