Black Narcissus (PG)

Film

Drama

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Time Out says

Tue Aug 2 2005

What better theatre in which to explore desire, hysteria, temptation and sexuality than a remote convent high up in the Indian Himalayas? And theatre this Michael Powell film most certainly is, as stressed by the gothic melodrama of the story and the acting, the studio setting with its beautiful backdrops and vivid colours and the most deliberate of characters and events. ‘There’s something in the atmosphere which makes everything seem exaggerated,’ says Mr Dean (David Farrar), the nuns’ charming local nemesis. Indeed there is, Mr Dean, and what superbly crafted, elemental and entertaining theatre this Powell and Pressburger film remains almost 60 years on.Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is taken by surprise when asked to select four nuns from her convent in Calcutta with whom to travel to distant Mopu at ‘the back of beyond’ and found a small, rural nunnery. It’s Sister Clodagh’s experience that forms the intellectual heart of this film, which appears deceptively light at first. Flashbacks reveal the reason behind her decision to become a nun: she fled a well-heeled, rural life in Ireland when a longed-for marriage failed to materialise. Which makes her relationship with bare-legged, rugged Dean – a local charmer and know-it-all – all the more stimulating. ‘Don’t you like children?’ asks Dean provocatively. Another nun, Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who we know is ‘sick’, is a violent cauldron of conflicting desires and acts as a mirror to Sister Clodagh’s repression. Their relationship contributes to the film’s most terrifying, artful scenes at its dramatic close. 
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Release details

Rated:

PG

UK release:

1946

Duration:

100 mins

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<strong>Rating: </strong><span class='lf-avgRating'>0</span>/5

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LiveReviews|6
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Peter Ludbrook

Titch, it's always a capital error to ascribe views to someone you don't know. As it happens 'Citizen Kane' is one of my Desert Island movies and I like a lot of the Ealing Comedies. At age 69 pre-1970 cinema is the cinema I grew up with. However I decided to give 'Black Narcissus' another try. I borrowed a DVD that included the commentary by both Michael Powel and Martin Scorses. Both fascinating and illuminating but they don't change my view of the film which I found even sillier rthe second around than I did at the first viewing . For the record I've never liked 'The Red Shoes' but I do like 'The life and Death of Colonel Blimp' and 'Peeping Tom'. I can't comment on the other films as I I haven't seen them. As ever, too many films, too little time.

titch

Sorry Peter, it's obviously difficult for you to digest anything pre 1970. Did you have have the same problem with other Powell and Pressburger classics, such as The Red Shoes or I Know Where I'm Going? How about the Ealing comedies? Is this only a problem with British films or do you fidget through Citizen Kane and wonder why that also seems to top the lists of classic films? If you are curious to find out why Black Narcissus is so highly rated, you should check out the Criterion Blu-ray edition from the States and listen to the fantastic commentary featuring the director Michael Powell (recorded shortly before he died) and Martin Scorsese. The fact that Scorsese rates it as one of his all-time favourites should be an indication that you missed something. As you say, the cinematography is gorgeous and the production design amazing but even this is not flawless; matte lines are clearly visible and it's obvious when miniatures are used. This does not detract from the overall achievement, however. Give it another go. David Farrar riding a tiny pony is even more hysterical than his shorts, by the way.

titch

Sorry Peter, it's obviously difficult for you to digest anything pre 1970. Did you have have the same problem with other Powell and Pressburger classics, such as The Red Shoes or I Know Where I'm Going? How about the Ealing comedies? Is this only a problem with British films or do you fidget through Citizen Kane and wonder why that also seems to top the lists of classic films? If you are curious to find out why Black Narcissus is so highly rated, you should check out the Criterion Blu-ray edition from the States and listen to the fantastic commentary featuring the director Michael Powell (recorded shortly before he died) and Martin Scorsese. The fact that Scorsese rates it as one of his all-time favourites should be an indication that you missed something. As you say, the cinematography is gorgeous and the production design amazing but even this is not flawless; matte lines are clearly visible and it's obvious when miniatures are used. This does not detract from the overall achievement, however. Give it another go. David Farrar riding a tiny pony is even more hysterical than his shorts, by the way.

Peter Ludbrook

This film is visually astonising in it's new digital restoration but | found the content left a lot to be desired. The story of a group of sexually repressed nuns going hysterical in the Himalayas is frankly ludicrous. The dialogue is stilted and the acting wooden. David Farrar's shorts reduced many in the audience to helpless laughter and reminded me of the late naturalist Steve Irwin. The music by Brian Easdale is dreadful and on the evidence of both this film and "The Red Shoes" I do not understand the inflated reputation of Powell and Pressburger. One of the silliest films I've seen this year. Two stars for the visuals and a special mention for Jack Cardiff's cinemphotography

David E Smart

One of the great films by a British studio. The sceneray and sets are so authentic that it is hard to believe that it was shot on a sound stage in it's entirity. Even today the atmoshpere and acting set it above most films of the period from any studio.

David E Smart

One of the great films by a British studio. The sceneray and sets are so authentic that it is hard to believe that it was shot on a sound stage in it's entirity. Even today the atmoshpere and acting set it above most films of the period from any studio.