#85: Under the Sun of Satan|
aka Sous le soleil de Satan
in 2008: 85; in 2006: 96
dir. Maurice Pialat, 1987
scr. Maurice Pialat and Sylvie Pialat; cin. Willy Kurant
with Gérard Depardieu, Sandrine Bonnaire, Maurice Pialat, Jean-Christophe Bouvet
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In 100 Words: One of history's least popular Palme d'or winners is also among my favorites. Faith is many things in this terse, tough, haunting portrait, from numinous conviction to unbearable ordeal. Satan addresses huge imbalances in the world without itself feeling unbalanced. Its ruddy, quotidian countryside encompasses inexplicable events and holy resonances. Its protagonists seem to occupy different films, to striking effect; one question the movie asks is whether two people ever occupy the same plane, spiritual or otherwise. Edits and camera angles carry tremendous implications without calling attention to themselves. Depardieu aches, impressively. And the devil sneaks right up on you.
Food for Thought: Maurice Pialat, never well-served by U.S. distribution, also awaits the reception he deserves among English-language scholarship. French studies abound of Pialat and of Satan in particular, to include a whole 1992 issue of La Revue des lettres modernes that studied the film and the source novel by Georges Bernanos from multiple angles. For Anglo readers, higher-brow movie magazines have often filled the gaps that persist in academic literature, typically addreing Pialat's career as a whole, given their well-earned skepticism that his body of work is well-known even to subscribers (and I confess, as much as I love Satan, I still haven't caught up with any of his other films). The 20-page Pialat retrospective in the May-June 2004 issue of Film Comment was a major event in movie journalism, and fortuitously appeared in print months after I first saw the movie. Kent Jones wrote a typically incisive one-page treatment of Satan as a "rough-hewn singularity" as part of that feature. Max Nelson's piece in the March 2012 issue of the open-access journal Senses of Cinema is shorter but eloquent. Christa Jones wrote one of the few article-length treatments of Under the Sun of Satan I can locate in English, a chapter called "The Satanic Saint in Maurice Pialat's Sous le Soleil de Satan" in Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film: Essays on Belief, Ritual, and Imagery, ed. Regina Hanse (McFarland, 2011).