Nico Le Phat Tan
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Satan (Sheitan) (2006)
22nd Feb 07
A night out clubbing in Paris takes a nasty turn for four friends when they accept the invitation of the beautiful Eve to celebrate Christmas by visiting her house in the country. Once there they meet the manically grinning caretaker Joseph who welcomes the out of town guests while his heavily pregnant wife Marie lurks upstairs.
That evening, what begins innocently as Christmas dinner turns into a disturbing conversation about sex, religion, satanic possession and evil. As the weekend progresses Joseph's behaviour only gets more erratic and the young friends realise their host has made a demonic pact. All hell is about to break loose.
Who or what is Le Sheitan? It's the devil, explains Joseph (Cassel) as he entertains his houseguests, someone who pushes us all towards sin. He then goes on to relate the tale of a man who asked to become invincible when visited by the devil. When his wish was granted the man promptly fucked his sister, only to find she was pregnant the next morning. On Christmas Eve, at the stroke of midnight, it was said the devil would return to claim the newborn as his own...
You can't help fearing that Joseph's tale is just a little bit autobiographical as the man's behaviour up to this point has been anything but normal. We first encounter this moustachioed housekeeper with his crazed grin as he's herding his goats along a country lane. As Eve (Mesquida) introduces her new friends his gruff retorts show a very un-PC attitude, referring first to Yasmine (Bekthi) as a "camel rider" and then calling Thai (Tan) "chink", before offering to give Eve a squirt of his goat's milk.
The key to enjoying this film can be summed up in two words – Vincent Cassel. No matter what the quality of the finished film (Derailed, Ocean's Twelve as prime examples), with Cassel on board you're always guaranteed a watchable performance from the French master. And from the moment he appears on screen with his manic look and colourful vocabulary, you just know you're in for a treat here! Yet Satan is so much more than a one man show; this deranged tale of a bunch of clubbers caught up in an inbred farming community is sharp, inventive and wickedly funny.
Back at Eve's house, Joseph particularly takes a shine to Bart (Barthelemy) and pesters him to come skinny-dipping at the hot springs. Reluctantly Bart agrees, but only after persuading the others to join him. On the journey we meet Joseph's niece – same fixed grin and all - who immediately latches on to Bart, licking his face, jerking off his dog, and eventually ripping a clump of his hair as the afternoon unfolds. It's both extremely funny yet equally uncomfortable, constantly keeping the viewer on edge as you're never quite sure which direction it's going to go next.
Imagine the unsettling oddness of Calvaire crossed with the manic energy of Dobermann and you're only part way to appreciating just how way out this movie is. Satan is the brainchild of Kim Chapiron, a member of Kourtrajme - a loose collective of video makers, artists and musicians who enlisted Cassel for a series of short films a few years back. With Cassel on board as producer, Chapiron utilised other members of the group in key roles, and called on other Kourtrajme friends and associates for the hard French rap soundtrack.
It was perhaps a risky strategy - imagine the cast of Dirty Sanchez trying to attempt the same feat - but the group largely pull it off with great success. If there's a criticism to be levelled at Satan, then it's squarely aimed at the characters of the three male friends who we first meet in the aptly named Styxx Club as Bart gets into a fist fight. None of the characters are particularly likeable, acting like brutish, vulgar thugs, which makes it hard to care for them later when their lives are in peril. Nevertheless, the trio of Barthelemy, Tan and Ly improvise well in their debut roles, the former recounting an hilariously filthy anecdote about a previous girlfriend (for no apparent reason) which is worth the price of admission alone.
The two girls acquit themselves well too, having been cast from acting backgrounds (Mesquida was in A Ma Soeur), with Bekthi taking the victim role and Mesquida the femme fatale, whose motives and complicity in the events are never made explicitly clear. Look out too for one Monica Bellucci in a cameo role, and then there's Marie... with child, creeping around upstairs looking for doll parts. To say anymore about Marie would spoil the surprise, but I must mention the birthing scene which comes with the most wonderful sound of dripping fluid as the clock strikes twelve.
With its continued display of gross-out behaviour, Satan is clearly not going to cater for all tastes. Whilst there are certainly horror elements within the story it isn't a particularly gory picture, preferring to shock the viewer instead through the nature of the community's relationship and the way they interact with their new arrivals. For me though, it works perfectly. Cassel's over-the-top performance coupled with Chapiron's wild approach produce a fresh, invigorating film which makes for ideal late night viewing. At the same time, it's also one of the most unconventional Christmas movies you're ever likely to see! Right, could you pass the sprouts please Joseph?
Versions Satan opens at the ICA in London on 23rd February for an exclusive run, and will then be released on DVD by Tartan on 26th March.