Thursday, September 29, 2005

Black Narcissus (1947)

It's gorgeous. Oh so gorgeous. Now that that's out of the way... Seriously, though, the ravishing photography is more than just window dressing here. It's so beautifully done that it becomes intoxicating, much like the aroma of the titular perfume. It's this level of sensual intoxication that leads to the personal and spiritual crises experienced by the hardy, intrepid nuns that serve as this film's main characters. The art direction used to represent the wild Himalayan surroundings create a counterpoint to the austerity of convent life, which makes the resulting failures of faith that much easier to believe -- it's not difficult at all to swallow Deborah Kerr being physically and emotionally stirred by her surroundings if we in the audience are drunk on the film's hyperstylized lush imagery. Kerr, by the way, is fantastic in a careful and controlled performance. In the later stages of the film when her emotions start to crack her facade, Kerr gives a master class on how to keep one's composure while losing one's head. The film, too, keeps its bearings even as red becomes the primary color in the art director's rainbow. The feverish intensity of the narrative matches the temperature of Kathleen Byron's Sister Ruth; by the time she shows up in a screaming red dress all but begging David Farrar to ravish her, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have secretly transformed this into a horror film in respectable garb, with overwhelming desire and repression as the twin monsters. It's all pretty fucking awesome. Pretty, too.

Grade: A-


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