- Actors: Gérard Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire, Alain Artur
- Director: Maurice Pialat
- Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: French
- Subtitles: English
- Number of discs: 2
- Rated: Unrated
- Studio: Cohen Media Group
- Release Date: June 14, 2016
- Run Time: 98 minutes
Faith is a difficult concept to convey cinematically, even with the use of dialogue as primary tool of discussion. While there are scenes in which the characters have a conversation about religion and life-purpose, Under the Sun of Satan approaches most ideas through character action, making for a straightforward but often ambiguous viewing experience. Perhaps due to my inability to relate to the flawed individuals within the film, or a difficulty in conveying the material adapted from the work of Georges Bernanos, I find the viewing experience of Under the Sun of Satan to be far more intellectual than emotional. Director Maurice Pialat worked as a painter prior to becoming a filmmaker, and at times it feels as though he expects his audience to approach this film as they would a work of art hanging in a museum.
The film tells us dual narratives of two characters that eventually cross paths in a single scene of anticlimactic dialogue which serves as turning point for both. Donissan (Gérard Depardieu) is a lackluster seminarian going through a crisis of faith, uncertain that he has chosen the correct path in life. The film doesn’t focus on the daily routine which has worn down Donnisan’s resolve, but simply shows us the effects of living a life that feels purposeless. Despite bouts of flagellation and a sincere longing for meaning, Donnisan is hopelessly lost. It isn’t until he is sent to hear a confession in a nearby town that his life purpose seems to become clear, to him if not the audience.
This confession ends up coming from Mouchette (Sandrine Bonnaire), an ambivalent teen who carries out several affairs with older men and carelessly kills one of them. If Donnisan is a difficult character to relate to, Mouchette is near impossible. She shows little regret for her flippant mistakes, even when her actions seem to suggest otherwise. Some of this may have been lost in the performance of Bonnaire, which feels intentionally theatrical. At first I just assumed this to be a forced performance from a sociopathic sixteen-year-old, though the resolution for her narrative suggests that it may have merely been a weak performance from Bonnaire. This is just one of many unanswered questions which come from a viewing of Under the Sun of Satan.
Perhaps the most compelling sequence of the film is one in which Donnisan has an encounter with a man who appears to be Satan, or at the very least represents the temptation of such an encounter. While walking along the way to give confession, Donnisan becomes inexplicably lost in the night. Coming across this man, he thinks it to be a blessing to have found company in his journey. This encounter slowly turns from eerie to deviant, and it is then followed by Donnisan’s crucial conversation with Mouchette in which he is able to see into her soul. Whether this gift comes from God or the encounter with the devil is open to debate, though it leads the priest down a path in search of redemption which leads to the ultimate sacrifice in order to save a dying boy.
There is plenty within the simple plot of Under the Sun of Satan for me to mull over, though I feel no more emotionally connected to the material. This may merely be the sign of foreign arthouse sensibilities, but the greatest lesson that it seems to teach me is more about my film preference than any musings on faith or religion. The two-disc Blu-ray release does offer many opportunities for further investigation of the film’s ideas within the special features, for those who enjoy the intellectual exploration over emotional impact. Disc 1 includes only the feature film, while the second Blu-ray disc is comprised entirely of extras. This film is the second release in a collection of Pialat’s work, with the first being three movies put out on Blu-ray last month. This film has clearly been given priority, with a second disc reserved for special features alone.
These extras included in this set are not new, but are available for the first time with the film on Blu-ray. There are three interviews from 2012, with Depardieu, cinematographer Willy Kurant, and production designer Katia Wyszkop. Also included are a handful of deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes footage, and two trailers.
Entertainment Value: 4/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 8/10
Special Features: 7/10