Monday, October 21, 2013

Movie of the Week – Black Narcissus

This week’s movie: Black Narcissus (1947).

Five nuns, led by Sister Clodagh, are tasked with opening a convent high within the Himalayas, but they soon find themselves overwhelmed by the beauty and exotic majesty of their surroundings.

Black Narcissus is one of the Archers’ (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) four great Technicolor masterpieces (the others being: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Matter of Life and Death, and The Red Shoes). The Archers work with composer Brian Easdale, cinematographer Jack Cardiff (who won an Oscar for his work), and production designer Alfred Junge/costume designer Hein Heckroth (Junge also won an Oscar for the film) – all frequent and brilliant collaborators. The film was shot in its entirety in Britain, mostly in a studio, and yet many believe that it was shot on location in India (some even claim they recognize landmarks and places seen in the film from their travels in India), which is a testament to just how magnificent the technical and aesthetic work is on the film – it is just a stunningly beautiful piece.

The film stars Deborah Kerr (and she is wonderful) and features very strong work from its entire supporting cast, namely Kathleen Byron (who creates one of cinema’s most astounding villains), Sabu, David Farrar, and Jean Simmons.

Black Narcissus was my introduction to the Archers, and it changed everything. Their films during the 1940s are aesthetically enchanting, highly compelling, and purposely and poignantly written (especially their four Technicolor outings). It is my opinion that their work during the 1940s in terms of the overall quality of a body of work is unequalled by any other filmmaker during a decade in film history (though, one can argue Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950s, Akira Kurosawa’s 1950s, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1970s, and maybe even Christopher Nolan’s 2000s). They are among my personal top five directors of all-time. Getting back to the film, it is both a brilliant character drama about repressed emotions (specifically sexuality and desire) and a tense thriller as good as any in the genre. It is one of the best films ever made and one that should not be missed.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

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