Nicolás Pereda, Greatest Hits, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 103 minutes.

THE MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE is serving up some offbeat fare at its 2013 “First Look” series. Take Greatest Hits, Nicolás Pereda’s latest exercise in downbeat Mexican life. Gone are the framing strategies of his previous films that gave the illusion of some vague theme making sense of eventless existence. In his new work, people hang around at the kitchen table or the living-room couch—two of them played by Pereda regulars Gabino Rodríguez and Teresa Sánchez—chatting idly and endlessly about nothing much. No one is rushing off to work, although they talk a lot about schemes for making money. Just as we’ve resigned ourselves that nothing unusual is likely to happen, the long-lost husband and father of Sánchez and Rodríguez arrives, although another actor had been playing that part in the first half. Then, when members of the film crew pop up, we think maybe we’ve been watching a Mexican version of the landmark television series An American Family (1973). Or perhaps everything we’ve seen thus far is another memorization exercise, like the one Gabino rehearses over and over of song titles (the “greatest hits” of the title). Handsomely shot in wide-screen with an emphasis on long takes, the film has a sly way of getting under your skin, as if these entrapped lives—fictional or non—were the comic underside of the lives of those fools in the rest of the world consumed by business and purpose.

There is also lots of waiting and longueurs—although far less talk—in Bruno Dumont’s Hors Satan (Beyond Satan). If the title seems a bit noncommittal, think The Exorcist (1973) meets Ordet (1955). The film is saturated with a tension induced by the enigmatic male protagonist (David Dewaele) and the mysterious acts of mercy and murder that come to him as easily as breathing. If there has been a unifying theme in Dumont’s work in general, it may be that there’s nothing weirder than life in the French provinces, where boundaries between good and evil are unapologetically porous. Set near the Calais coast, the film’s austerely photographed exteriors convey a desolate beauty that induces our “hero,” and the young woman (Alexandra Lemâtre) under his protection, to kneel in recognition to some unidentified pre-Christian god. The man lives outdoors, his body immune to fire and the elements. Minutes into the film, moved purportedly by unassailable logic, he blows away the girl’s abusive stepfather. When a neighbor’s daughter seems inexplicably deranged, he applies the ultimate mouth-to-mouth cure, part exorcism, part rape—an act he repeats with a sluttish young woman, forcing a foamy substance from her mouth. Though he shuns intercourse with Lemâtre’s character, he does one better by bringing her back to life after she is raped and killed by a local hunter. Neither God nor Satan, Dumont’s protagonist is in touch with the unnatural order of things, dispensing miracles and murders as forms of archaic justice, as if in obedience to the same deities worshipped by Medea. And just as Medea is spirited away by the gods to escape punishment, our man moves on to the next village.

Bruno Dumont, Hors Satan (Beyond Satan), 2011, 35 mm, color, sound, 110 minutes.

Nothing could be less detached in style—or seemingly so—than Siberia, a direct video portrait of the unraveling of a love affair between Dumont and the filmmaker Joana Preiss. Traveling together to Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway (Dumont participated in a film festival at Vladivostok), the two film each other with an often suffocating visual intimacy that only underscores the absence of the real thing. As the affair moves inevitably toward dissolution, we are apt to remember that even the very personal is prone to rhetoric—especially when a movie camera is involved.

Among the other documentaries in the series, Thom Andersen’s Reconversão (Reconversion) is an entrancing look at the work of the celebrated Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. A series of long takes of primarily private homes in Porto and other cities exhibit the man’s signature style, which is to incorporate a modern design within the on-site ruins of a previous century, integrating the lines and shapes of the latter into the living spaces of the former. As photographed by Peter Bo Rappmund, the images are stunning, arousing envy as well as admiration. By the time the amiable Souto de Moura makes his appearance, we easily connect his plain-speaking eloquence with what we have seen, Andersen’s narration and Rappmund’s images having made his aesthetic so palpable. Unlike poets and painters of the Romantic era, for whom ruins were melancholy remnants of death and decay, the architect sees them as living organisms, constantly breathing and testifying to movement in time. The movie’s magnificent cinematography actively echoes this sense of temporality as Rappmund’s images (consistent with his recent work Tectonics, shown at the 2012 Views from the Avant-Garde series at the New York Film Festival), shot at fast speed and using stop-motion technique, reduce people and vehicles to particle phenomena or fleeting swipes across spaces that fail to contain them—a paradoxical commentary on the transience of existence and the durable presence of ruins.

Tony Pipolo

The “First Look” series runs January 4–13 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Bruno Dumont’s Hors Satan also runs January 18–27 at Anthology Film Archives in New York.