Black Narcissus

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Pushing staid British cinema into a vein of emotion after WWII, directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (collectively the Archers) made a string of important fantasies. Last year’s rereleased fever dream The Red Shoes (1948) is theirs, as is the 1946 afterlife romance Stairway to Heaven, a film that unspools with ethereal grace.

And, it must be said, the Archers sometimes fired a little wide. Black Narcissus, released in 1947 between those aforementioned peak achievements, is a tale of nuns operating a convent in the Himalayas. It’s more melodramatic than moving; the brooding sexual tensions will test the funny bone of any modern viewer.

But undeniably, it’s a masterpiece of visual mood, and that might be recommendation enough. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff seemed to invent new shades of mauve for the shoot, heightening the dramatic mystery. Red lipstick lunges off the screen; lush interiors (and the floppy habits of the sisters themselves) enfold characters in states of transition.Criterion’s new high-definition transfer is a significant upgrade from the 2001 edition. Included again is a classic commentary with the late Powell and Martin Scorsese.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Duration: 100 mins

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