The Nun (1966)

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Jacques Rivette

Starring

Anna Karina Liselotte Pulver Micheline Presle

Anticipation.

One of Jacques Rivette’s lesser-known early works, newly restored.

Enjoyment.

A minutely calibrated and tragic performance from Anna Karina.

In Retrospect.

Very different from the director’s more freewheeling later work, but great all the same.

A welcome re-release of Jacques Rivette’s second feature, a ferocious and lightly erotic takedown of organised religion.

If you look back at the formative writings of the ‘Young Turk’ critics involved in French journal Cahiers du Cinéma, Jacques Rivette was especially enamoured by the movies coming out of Japan in the 1950s. He wrote passionately on the work of Kenji Mizoguchi, whose work explores the humiliations and degradations suffered by women at the hands of men, the law, institutions and society at large. It makes his second feature, 1966’s The Nun, feel like an earnest homage to the late master, even down to its at framing and use of musical cues which draw on Asian instrumentation.

The righteous anger found in Denis Diderot’s 1760 novel makes its way to the screen in this intense and almost comically bleak admonition of the papacy which lands punch after punch. A couple decide to offload their daughter Suzanne (Anna Karina) on a nunnery and coerce her into accepting her vows – even though she claims not to be a believer. What should be a life of spiritual harmony soon turns sour as Suzanne realises that she has become a prisoner to the Church. Her descent lands her as a plaything for the spiteful Mother Superior (Francine Bergé).

Where some of Rivette’s mid-career masterworks like Céline and Julie Go Boating and Out 1 are radical and meandering, The Nun is rigid, curt and fiercely focused. Suzanne isn’t against anyone or anything, she merely desires her personal freedom. Yet it seems wherever she is and whoever she’s with, happiness is the first thing snatched away from her. The film was something of a costly shambles for Rivette and it may have been the reason he opted for low budgets and high levels of freedom in his later works. It does, however, offer a fine showcase for Karina, who loses herself in the central role of a woman desperate for reasons to stay alive.

Published 26 Jul 2018

Tags: Anna Karina Jacques Rivette

Anticipation.

One of Jacques Rivette’s lesser-known early works, newly restored.

Enjoyment.

A minutely calibrated and tragic performance from Anna Karina.

In Retrospect.

Very different from the director’s more freewheeling later work, but great all the same.

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