The Movie Waffler New Release Review - The Nun | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - The Nun

Adaptation of Denis Diderot's classic French novel.

Directed by: Guillaume Nicloux
Starring: Pauline Etienne, Isabelle Huppert, Louise Bourgoin

Suzanne (Etienne) is an illegitimate child, the product of an affair her mother once conducted in secret. Deciding her daughter must atone for her own sin, Suzanne's mother sends her against her will to join a convent. Initially, the convent is run by a kindly mother superior who sympathizes with Suzanne, having experienced doubts throughout her own life. But when the mother superior dies in what is billed as a murder (though probably a covered up suicide), her replacement (Bourgoin) adopts an altogether more stern approach to running the institution. When she expresses her desire to leave, the new mother superior rejects her request, fearing it will bring the convent into disrepute, and Suzanne is subjected to an ongoing litany of physical and psychological torture.
The French produce some of the most interesting and invigorating contemporary dramas around but they also specialize in a line of drab period dramas so staid they make Merchant Ivory productions look like 'Smokey & the Bandit' in comparison. For every 'In the House' there's a dull costume drama like Guillaume Nicloux's adaptation of Denis Diderot's once controversial novel, previously filmed by Jacques Rivette in a version filled with far more anger towards the Catholic church, despite being released five decades ago.
In Nicloux's update, the church gets much more of a fair trial. Most of the Catholic authority figures are remarkably sympathetic to Suzanne's plight, with the exception of Bourgoin's vicious Mother Superior. Unfortunately, Nicloux has no such sympathy for his audience, subjecting us to two hours of what amounts to little more than misery porn.
I'm not saying you can't make a good film in which your (usually female) lead character is put through the ringer; look at the films of Haneke ('The Piano Teacher') or Von Trier (pretty much every other film he's made) for examples of how this concept can produce great results. Nicloux, however, has neither the artistry of the former nor the insanity of the latter. There's a coldness to his film that never allows for any sort of emotional involvement in his heroine's plight. Despite the multiple indignities inflicted upon Suzanne, I never felt any sort of outrage at the perpetrators, and I'm someone whose blood tends to boil at the mere mention of religious atrocities.
When Huppert (far too good an actress for such dull fare) turns up as a lesbian superior, the film descends into farce as she attempts to awkwardly woo her young and naive charge. I couldn't help but be reminded of the scenes in comedy classic 'Airplane' in which Peter Graves asks a young boy a series of inappropriate questions. Such laughs, however, are nowhere to be found in this exercise in Gallic gloom.

Eric Hillis