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May 28, 2019

The Nun

the nun  poster.jpg

Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Denis Diderot
Jacques Rivette - 1965
Kino Classics BD Region A

I'm not sure if I'm able to really write about The Nun in any meaningful way. While I have seen a good number of films by Jacques Rivette, I feel inarticulate. The blu-ray comes with an essay by Dennis Lim and a commentary track by Nick Pinkerton, and both can discuss the film in ways that will make what ever I have to say look like a junior high school essay next to doctoral dissertations.

Adapted from the 18th Century novel by Denis Diderot, The Nun is a fictional story inspired by a couple of real life nuns. Suzanne Simonin, a young woman about sixteen years old, is forced by her parents to become a nun for economic reasons. Although she does not feel she has "the calling", Suzanne attempts to go through the motions, cast aside by her parents who view her as a burden. The physical abuse experienced at one convent is replaced by the emotional abuse in a second convent. Suzanne, who admits to knowing nothing about the outside world, is the victim of more abuse outside the convent.

While much of the discussion regarding The Nun has been about its presentation of aspects of the Catholic Church, the film is also about the circumscribed roles of women. Suzanne is denied the opportunity to marry or stay at home, and her place as a nun is to be permanent, unlike some girls around her age. Outside of the church, Suzanne does menial labor, is reduced to begging on the street, and finally is groomed to be a high-class prostitute. Unlike Candide, Suzanne's innocence about the world destroys her. Just as in marriage at that time, being a bride of Christ involves a dowry. Suzanne's tragedy is not only about her inability to find her place in the world, but her destiny tied to her monetary value.

Most of the film takes place inside the two convents. The walls of the first convent are a dark blue-gray, the second convent is a lighter shade. The nuns' habits are also dark blue and gray. The Nun has been noted as being Rivette's most formal film, several critics have used the word "austere". The screenplay originated from a play by Jean Grault, staged by Rivette, also with Anna Karina in the title role, in 1963. Most of the film is composed as a series of traveling shots of the actors and their immediate environment. One of the other visual motifs repeated is the use of bars whether to separate the nuns from visitors, or as part of the confessional. That there is an unforced parallel between convents and prisons is part of the greater theme of the characters being imprisoned by roles chosen if not imposed on them. There is also the indirect hint of future Riviette films centered on women who have taken to road trips or fantasy escapes.

The blu-ray also contains a short documentary featuring Anna Karina and the lawyer for producer Georges De Beauregard discussing the production, and the temporary ban that prevented the release of The Nun. The blu-ray was taken from the recent 4K restoration, itself made from the film's original negative.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 28, 2019 07:31 AM