Nuns of all kinds—caring, sadistic and lesbian—adorn Rivette’s controversial and sardonic sophomore feature about the ironies of religious faith, built around arguably Anna Karina’s most enigmatic performance.
Cast: Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Micheline Presle
Plot: In 18th-century France, a girl is forced against her will to take vows as a nun. Three mothers superior treat her in radically different ways, ranging from maternal concern, to sadistic persecution, to lesbian desire.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
Subject Matter: Mature – Religious Abuse; Homosexuality
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
From the opening moments, Jacques Rivette warns us not to take his film too seriously and make presumptive judgments.
If that isn’t already a strong indicator that The Nun is going to offend and scare conservative viewers away, then the music by Jean-Claude Eloy (an electroacoustic composer who rarely dabbled in film) will unsettle the rest who might find it too dissonant and experimental for their liking, a sound that would have felt more at home in a Japanese film scored by Toru Takemitsu than a French film about nuns.
There are a lot of nuns in this one, I must say, and of all kinds—caring, sadistic and lesbian. In arguably her most enigmatic performance as a newly-minted nun, Anna Karina is neither sadistic nor lesbian; instead, her Suzanne is conflicted, confused, and most of all, tormented.
Forced into her present circumstance after being disowned by her chosen family, Suzanne finds herself unwilling to take the religious vows that would commit her to a lifetime of asceticism.
“Be patient with your fate.”
Rivette’s film is controversial in its exploration of homosexual desires existing in a place of worship; at the same time, he pulls no punches in portraying the Church as a site of physical abuse, where violence and intimidation rule.
Some critics have likened The Nun to a ‘prison film’, where the shackles of religious faith keep one from embracing true freedom.
As such, doors and bars feature prominently as visual motifs, particularly when Suzanne is around, a clear and obvious case of a filmmaker’s mise-en-scene doing its part to strictly regulate a character’s movement, and to keep out the Devil so to speak.
With a foreboding atmosphere that sometimes feels like a gothic horror film might emerge from within, Rivette’s unconventional if ultimately classically-executed work sees its protagonist entrapped in body, mind and soul as she seeks the salvation that is promised but never comes.