Black Narcissus (1947)
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Starring Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Flora Robson
This film won the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (1947), Best Art Direction – Set Direction, Color (1947) and was also the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Cinematography.
After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension – both with the natives and also within their own group – as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.
IMDb rating: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 100%
Genevieve’s rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Jessica’s rating: 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Genevieve: What an amazing film. This truly has every aspect that makes a wonderful film for me. The characters and actors, the plot and setting, the music and camera, the director and his crew, the editing, the entire atmosphere can be described with one quote from the film: “There’s something about the air up here that makes everything seem exaggerated.” That is so very true for this film. Everything seems exaggerated and otherworldly, in a sense. Kerr is fantastic, becoming her character in every way, right down to the facial expression. I was very surprised when Jessica told me that this was not filmed near the Himalayas, or at least the interiors. The way that they so beautifully and realistically recreated that area very much earned the Oscar they were given.
From the beginning, the camera movement and cut sequences mesmerized me. Jack Cardiff really has become someone that I am going to look for. I believe this is my first film by him and he has immediately stolen my heart. The script was just as beautiful as the cinematography, though. Every aspect complimented one another so well, no other way could they so successfully make you feel ever scene to its fullest extent. The paranoia, the sexual repression, the sometimes undeniable yen for freedom, all of it is made possible by every aspect of this film moving together like a waltz. The repressive society bears down on you during it all, judging you and ever watching.
Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth are the two most interesting characters, as they should be. Clodagh’s mask of propriety clashed against Ruth so very well. Ruth feels like electric energy on the screen, popping and fizzing, ready to explode at any moment. The entire time I was checking how long was left in the movie, which normally I count as a bad thing, but in this instance, it was because I didn’t want it to end. The experience was unforgettable, and it definitely has reached the ranks of my favorite movies. Jessica, you are an angel of showing this to me.
Jessica: Kathleen Byron is fantastic, and Sister Ruth is terrifying period. One of the best shots in this film is the extreme close up of her red rimmed eyes, and is just one example of Jack Cardiff’s amazing cinematography. Also, the scene where Sister Ruth slowly applies her lipstick; everything is done so well. The contrast of the compact mirror and the compact Bible, the feral color of the lipstick. If you like this film, you really need to see Red Shoes. Jack Cardiff worked on that one as well, so it has more fabulous Cardiff cinematography.
The plot becomes so tense, using the political hot bed setting of India, isolating them so much, changing the culture and as the plot unfolds, everything that can go wrong does. It is no wonder that the Catholic Decency League banned this film, given its content. Nuns with sexual tension is not something they tend to promote, although it adds an undeniable realism to the plot. Plus, nuns behaving badly is just not done.
If I had to say anything negative about the film, it would be the lack of backstory for Ruth. I am in search of the novel to see if the novel will elaborate on the other backstories more than the film does. Overall, though, this is one of my favorite films.