Thursday, July 18, 2013

In short: Le Moine (1972)

aka The Monk

Ambrosio (Franco Nero) is the superstar preacher of his local abbey, full of fiery hatred against the things of the Flesh (even marriage is too icky a concept for him), and a fitting self-righteous attitude.

Things go well for Ambrosio until he learns that a young novice who clearly had him thinking unvirginal thoughts already is in fact Mathilde (Nathalie Delon), a woman; a woman, at that, who has smuggled herself into the order just to be with him. Realizing this and getting seduced into fornication are as obvious as my talent for similes. Once Ambrosio has started on the sinning, he's on a downwards path of sins from lies through more fornication through the lusting after teenage girls through murder. Mathilde is enabling Ambrosio's fall wherever she can, for she has been sent by the devil himself to tempt the monk, and really seems to have fun doing her job.

Things may or may not become difficult for the increasingly insane Ambrosio once the inquisition comes to town.

Adonis Kyrou's adaptation of Matthew Gregory Lewis's classic Gothic novel The Monk is a rather dispiriting case of a film taking a much too timid approach to its material to be successful; and that despite a script co-written by Luis Bunuel among whose failures timidity isn't usually counted.

The problem is that The Monk is a novel whose feverish and sensationalist tone cries out for an equally feverish and sensationalist movie. Kyrou, however, seems to think it an appropriate way to treat paedophilia, cannibalism, debauchery, black magic and murder with the sort of distance that doesn't love anything more than to stop short before showing or saying anything directly that might offend someone, where it would be rather more useful to try and offend everyone. Even the usual criticism of organized religion and particularly Catholicism in this sort of thing is reluctant and just not very convincing, as if the film were directed by someone too soft to ever step outside the boundaries of good taste. Which is of course the death knell for a film that should by all rights do nothing but step outside of these boundaries, and then throw faeces at them.

Visually, Kyrou isn't too interesting a director either. There's a certain blandness in his direction that doesn't even milk a (most probably Bunuel-derived) set-up like Nicol Williamson's paedophilic mock-Christian child procession for anything of what it's worth.

In other words, what The Monk needs are the slimy and fearless hands of an exploitation director. Consequently a lot of nunsploitation movies not based on The Monk are much closer to the spirit of the  original work than this nominal adaptation. They are also not nice, and not tepid, and surely not as polite as Kyrou's film is, never provoking the question this version of The Monk raises: what's the point?

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