14 June 2015 | gradyharp
Forgive me Father for I have sinned
Denis Diderot wrote La Religieuse (The Nun) in 1780 and the power in this story remains intact in this screen adaptation by Guillaume Nicloux (who also directs) and Jérôme Beaujour. Diderot was a radical freethinker, rejecting conventional dogma and associated himself with some of the most enlightened philosophers of his age. His books were burned and Diderot himself served three months in Vincennes prison in retaliation for his attacks on the conventional morality of the day. Some of his books were considered so radical that they were banned until after his death.
The story takes place in France, in the 1760s. Born to a bourgeois family, Suzanne (Pauline Etienne) is a beautiful young girl with a natural talent for music. Despite her faith, she is dismayed when her parents send her off to a convent, expecting her to become a nun. Suzanne first resists the rules of the convent, but soon finds out that she is an illegitimate child, leaving her no other option than to pronounce her vows and suffer the consequences of her mother's sin. She soon wants to escape the religious path and is trying to revoke her vows when the Mother Superior, who had brought her comfort and solace, dies. Her successor, Sister Christine (Louise Bourgoin), turns out to be a sadistic and cruel Mother Superior, inflicting the worst forms of humiliation upon Suzanne, such as depriving her of food and clothing. Suzanne is finally transferred to another convent, where she discovers another kind of Mother Superior (Isabelle Huppert), who develops an inappropriate affectionate bond with her. The story is one of a woman trying to resist imposed religious values, revealing the dehumanizing effect of cloistered life.
Pauline Etienne is radiant as Suzanne and as always Isabelle Huppert delivers a riveting performance. The costumes by Anaïs Romand are especially fine as is the musical score by Max Richter. This is a superb film on every level.