Sunday, June 12, 2016

UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN: Volume 2 of The Films of Maurice Pialat hits Blu-ray/DVD

Maurice Pialat made UNDER THE SUN OF SATAN (Sous le soleil de Satan) toward the end of his 44-year career, and the film exhibits nearly everything that fans love and detractors call out about this divisive French filmmaker. The film proves episodic and rather clunky (smoothness of any kind appears not to have been among Pialat's filmmaking characteristics), yet it deals with subjects so interesting and appealing/appalling -- god, the devil, faith, religion and miracles -- that it is difficult not to become, well, pretty quickly hooked.

Further, Pialat's knack for casting ensures that the leading roles will be played by actors who are not simply believable and talented but who possess a certain charisma that keeps one glued. Here, these includes the likes of Gérard Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire, and the director himself (shown at left) who plays one of the three leads with impressive seriousness and strength. The film is based on a novel by Georges Bernanos, which was adapted by for the screen by Pialat and Sylvie Pialat, his wife. Not having read the novel I have little idea how true the Pialats were to the original, but what has come out is a film about a very odd priest named Donissan (Depardieu, shown on poster, top, and below ), his vocation and career as, it turns out, some kind of miracle worker.

Initially, it seems that our priest is simply unsure of himself and maybe in over his head. But as the film progresses -- clunkily, it must be said -- pretty soon he's raising the dead. We also meet Ms Bonnaire, below, playing a young woman who clearly gets around some, having had affairs with two of her town's prominent males -- one a nobleman going bankrupt who would like her to live with him in something close to poverty, the other a married man who doubles as town bigwig.

Before you can say murder-or-maybe-accident-and-then-a-suicide, one of these guys is dead, and soon the responsible person is, too. And then the miracles -- or whatever -- begin.  The film if full of talk, much of it involving religion and faith, god and the devil. We even get a scene with Satan himself -- or maybe it's just Donissan's imagining of him -- who turns out to be gay (appropriate for a priest's fantasy, no?).

Bonnaire is, as always, riveting, while Depardieu has rarely looked sexier than here, in a cassock. And Pialat, as Donissan's mentor and friend, brings enormous caring and concern to the film, which certainly helps us some ways toward feeling that all this is somehow important.

The religious talk/philosophy is interesting but not terribly memorable. And the reactions of Donissan's parishioners to him and his healing powers seem pretty typical of any congregation exposed to "the Lazarus effect."

But is all this simply magical stuff in the guise of religion? Or maybe the reverse. Well, hey -- god works in mysterious ways, right? Because of the film's abrupt and episodic structure, we must piece together certain events and ideas, which is tolerable, I suppose. For some, this sort of filmmaking will seem "rigorous". Others will find it merely clumsy.

TrustMovies joins the latter camp, but due to the strength of the three lead performances (the rest of the cast comes off well, too), he did not find it difficult to stick with and enjoy the film on one level, at least.

From the Cohen Film Collection, Under the Sun of Satan -- running just 98 minutes and carrying the series title of The Film of Maurice Pialat, Volume 2 -- offers a Blu-ray featuring a very good transfer as a two-disc set, the first featuring the film itself, with the second disc containing a wealth of interviews. Both Blu-ray and DVD are available this coming Tuesday, June 14 -- for purchase or rental.

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