47 Years of Student Run Cinema
Student Film Society of the Year 2002, 2005, 2006
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Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, UK, 1947, 100 minutes
Sexual temptation! Wild landscapes! Nuns! Black Narcissus has it all and is one of the most unusual and vivid films youre likely to see this semester. Made by renowned British film-making team Powell and Pressburger in the late forties, the film follows a group of five Anglican nuns, let by the young and rather attractive Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) as they attempt to establish a remote religious community in the Himalayas.
Sister Clodagh and her charges struggle to maintain order and a sense of Christian purpose as they face a plethora of psychological challenges ranging from the extremes of weather to the extremely rugged features of Mr. Dean (David Farrar), the local British expat whose mind-bogglingly tiny shorts create much lusty turmoil under the nuns habits. Gradually the women are drawn away from their vocation and descend into an emotional crisis of doubt, jealousy and madness.
If this doesnt really sound like your sort of thing then please think again. Black Narcissus is a powerful and fascinating cinematic masterpiece. Its highly unlikely that such a film, with its completely un-PC portrayals and stereotypes, would be made today. But thats partly what makes it so interesting (and, ahem, entertaining) to watch.
The performances are absolutely superb. No one does repressed Englishness better than Deborah Kerr, but here shes over-shadowed by an incredible performance by Kathleen Byron as the unhinged Sister Ruth. Visually the film is stunning, a vibrant and glowing Technicolour tour de force that garnered it two Oscars for Cinematography and Art Direction. Its hard to believe from the dazzling images that this film wasnt made on location and instead was shot on sets in Pinewood studio.
Smouldering with hysteria, madness and a brooding eroticism Black Narcissus is a film that has inspired a generation of modern film-makers. Martin Scorsese has cited it as one of his major cinematic influences. Come and see why
Review by Flippanta Kulakiewicz
Written for EUFS Programme Autumn 2008
Like Jean Renoir's The River, Black Narcissus is based on a novel by Rumer Godden, and marks the Archers' first film whose source material is not their own.
A group of Anglican nuns are sent to establish a community in a remote kingdom high in the Himalayas. Lead by their Sister Superior - Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), they take up residency in a beautiful, mysterious palace which used to be the home of the Rajah's women. The Sisters' main contact with the local ruler (Sabu) is through a rude and dissolute Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar). It is Sister Ruth's unrepressible desire for Mr Dean that breaks up the community and drives them into retreat.
Black Narcissus is a vitally important film in the history of cinema for two main reasons. Firstly, Powell realised that the story itself was intimate and dramatic and could easily be swamped by exotic, majestic exteriors filmed in Nepal. He needed complete control over the atmosphere of the film, and the only way to do this was to shoot everything in a Pinewood studio, using matte shots, glass shots, etc. and a huge set of the palace with painted backings. The result was two Academy Awards for art direction and set decoration.
The second reason is that Black Narcissus marks Powell's first experimentation with the notion of composed film, which involved writing the music first and shooting the film to playback The sequence lasts only 12 minutes, but it is the build-up to the climax of the film. In it the music (composed by Brian Easdale) dictates the movements of the characters and reveals their thoughts and intentions. As a result Powell creates a pulsating, scintilating film full of eroticism.
Review by Stephen Cox
Taken from EUFS Programme 1995-96