The Monk

The Monk
With brooding French actor Vincent Cassel playing a monk, you can be sure his character’s chastity and sanctity are not fully guaranteed. And so it turns out in this French-language adaptation of Matthew Lewis’s 1796 gothic novel about Ambrosio (Cassel), a revered friar in early seventeenth-century Spain who is increasingly drawn to sins of the flesh after being corrupted by the devil.

At first, Ambrosio shows pious rectitude in handing over an errant nun to her superiors, but soon he is tempted by a masked girl, Matilda (Déborah François), dressed as a monk, and a young woman, Antonia (Joséphine Japy), who is desperate for him to pray at the bedside of her sick mother, Elvira (Catherine Mouchet), whose own past hangs ominously in the air.

Director Dominik Moll is best known for ‘Harry, He’s Here to Help’ and ‘Lemming’, both good-looking modern psychological thrillers rooted in the real world. Though superficially different, his approach here is fairly similar – only the ‘real’ world of a medieval monk, especially this one, involves visions of heaven and hell with added flashbacks of carnal shenanigans. The whole thing could have been a lot camper in the hands of someone like Ken Russell in his heyday, and whether you miss such stylings will depend on your taste.

As it is, Moll plays it deadly straight but struggles to maintain interest in seemingly unrelated strands of his story or to make Ambrosio’s fall from grace as sinister and compelling as it should be. The photography and design are high points, with a night-time religious procession that is very freaky indeed.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday April 27 2012
Duration: 101 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Dominik Moll
Cast: Vincent Cassel
Déborah François
Joséphine Japy
Sergi López
Geraldine Chaplin

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

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Les R

Recently, thanks to R Dawkins et al, the conflict between religion and science has taken centre stage, but this film invokes a much older conflict - between religion and sex. The Catholic church is presented as an institution of sexual repression, particularly for the overly zealous who become nuns and monks and take vows of chastity. The film presents the church as an institution suffering from a psychological malaise which imposes inhuman restrictions on its followers, driving them to acts of cruelty and madness. Given the recent revelations about paedophile priests and the cover-up by the Vatican, the subject matter is very topical indeed. Unfortunately, the end of the story is quite disappointing, probably because the author could not see beyond the conventions of his time (1795), but we should appreciate the powerful critique of religious psycho-pathology that the film delivers.