BLACK NARCISSUS (1947, UK, Powell & Pressburger)
Apr 30 8:30
May 1 6:30
May 4 7:00
#44 on this year's Arts & Faith 100 selection of films with some sort of spiritual something-or-other maybe going on. The A&F write-up goes like this...
This classic, brilliantly colorful film from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger follows five nuns, led by Sister Clodagh, into the Himalayas to start a hospital and school for the local villagers. The battle against the elements and the local culture proves to be a formidable one, though Sister Clodagh’s most difficult tasks comes from within—through the envious Sister Ruth and Clodagh’s own struggle with her calling and commitment.Here's the Pacific Cinematheque graph...
The film’s location plays an integral role in the overall thematic arc as a battle between competing worlds. Clodagh struggles to reconcile her pastoral memory of the past with the stony heights of her present. The nuns struggle to bring their English Christianity to bear on the lives of the Himalayan villagers. Powell and Pressberger’s stunning use of color helps to underline these dualities, providing a consistent stream of beautiful images both natural and unnatural, lush and rough, pitting worlds against one another in a visual sense. These formal elements serve as fine complements to the narrative of the film, which follows the nuns as they navigate their way between their competing worlds.
Beyond the exploration of these opposing realms, the film also serves as a meditation on the Incarnation, particularly in the notion of Christ’s descent from heaven to earth, His taking on of human flesh, and His service among humanity. The crucifix finds its way into shots repeatedly—appropriate for a nunnery to be sure, but also drawing the viewer to reflect on the intersection of this narrative with the life of Jesus. Black Narcissus is no allegory, but its theological echoes are undeniable.
A sumptuous stunner of studio-set style and seething, repressed sexuality, Black Narcissus is one of the triumphs of British cinema, and one of the great masterpieces in the Powell and Pressburger canon; Jack Cardiff’s amazing colour cinematography, winner of a much-deserved 1947 Oscar, plays no small part in its glories. Five Anglican nuns attempt to establish a mission in a one-time bordello in the remote Himalayas, but find their faith sorely tested by climate, culture clash, and carnal passion. The superb cast is headed by Deborah Kerr as the virtuous Mother Superior; David Farrar as a cynical, sensual British agent; Sabu as the local Indian potentate; and Kathleen Byron as a nun unhinged by desire. The film’s flesh-versus-spirit battle unfolds in a deliriously exotic, studio-set India that recalls the lavish stylizations of the Josef von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich films of the 1930s.