Monday, February 24, 2014

Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus; drama, UK, 1947; D: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, S: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Flora Robson, Jean Simmons

The young nun Clodagh is appointed the new Sister Superior in a soon to be built convent, situated on a mountain in Himalayas. Clodagh often argues with the cynical British man Dean, who looks down on religion, but also has a big task of educating the peasants' children and a grown up Indian, the son of the Old General who gave the location to nun's disposal. One nun resigns, while another, Sister Ruth, quits her profession and admits her love to Dean. After he rejects her, Ruth tries to throw Clodagh from the convent, but dies herself from the fall. Clodagh disbands her mission and leaves the location.

Extravagant directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger always seemed modern thanks to their very refined and vivid style, and when they took a conventional story about nuns trying to build a convent in the Himalayas, in the movie "Black Narcissus", the expectations were far greater than the given result - a good, but conventional story. Untypically 'ordinary' for them, "Black Narcissus" is still a quality achievement, and two virtues stand out - the great color cinematography that gives a rich sense of nature and panoramas, that seems as if it is from the 70s; and the great performance by Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh, who, it is hinted, has a small crush on the secular British guide Dean - they have chemistry, enough for a good film, yet too little of a spectrum for a true calibre of a greater film - whereas Powell and Pressburger at least demonstrated their true 'director's power' in two sequences: one is the flashback that shows how Sister Clodagh remembers her pre-nun days, when she was a girl in love with a man who left her; and the other is quite a 'shrill' moment of Christmas mood in Himalayas. The viewers get a good expression of bonding with the nuns trying to tame the suspicious peasants and build a convent from scratch, yet, just like the abrupt and incomplete ending, "Black Narcissus" feels as if it did not even aim at any greater heights than 'just' a fine film.


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