As time goes by,Powell and Pressburger's movies become more and more important and crucial in the evolution of the seventh art.The first time I 'd seen "black narcissus" I had missed the whole point:this is the kind of film you've got to see several times. Five nuns are leaving their Calcutta convent for a mission in the Himalaya mountains.In this place,where the wind never stops blowing,they will settle in an old "palace".These nuns have faith,they believe in what they are doing ,be it teaching,nursing,educating,or carrying the word of God.But their faith will clash with a thousand -tear-old wisdom(the Holy Man),a population who mixes up religion with magic,and Mister Dean, a Bunuelesque pragmatic man. The natives will not change,but the nuns will.Their faith gets still tangled in prejudices;two examples: -A young noble man wants to study in the mission.When sister Clodagh (Kerr) refuses,he points his finger at the crucifix and says "Wasn't HE a man?"" He took the shape of a man" the baffled nun answers. -Sister Clodagh wants to get rid of the Holy Man,who spends his time gazing upon the world around him."What would Jesus Christ have done?" Dean ironically asks her. After hearing sister Philippa's (Flora Robson)worried confidences,sister Clodagh feels that her past is coming back to haunt her.The flashbacks are extraordinary,dreamlike and a bit eerie.Clodagh comes to the door to meet her fiancé ,there's only darkness.The past and the present are worlds apart,in time and in space and seem to be two unconnected ones .It recalls the real world and the beyond in "a matter of life and death" (1946).And the infinite space of the 1946 work is here the highest mountains in the world.By the same token,the hunting with hounds flashback forecasts "gone to earth" (1949).Powell and Pressburger are real auteurs who build a coherent work. The nuns actually discover that they are women made of flesh and blood.One of them,sister Ruth goes as far as falling in love with Dean and relinquishes religion.The night scene during which she paints her lips against a hellish backdrop in front of a terrified sister Clodagh is a riveting tour de force that even Luis Bunuel did not equal.The fighting around the (hell) bell between a white Clodagh and an all dressed in black Ruth will leave you on the edge of your seat. There are so many things to say about "black narcissus":Jean Simmons appears in a silent ,but vicious part.This is probably Deborah Kerr's towering performance,and she's only on the threshold of a brilliant career -she will play a nun once more in John Huston's "heaven knows mister Allison" ,but although I do love that director,her part here is far superior-.Jack Cardiff's award-winning color cinematography was years ahead of its time.It works wonders in the sensual scenes but the most beautiful picture remains for me the last one when the rain begins to fall on green leaves. A sparkling black diamond.
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.
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September 3, 2019