After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension - both with the natives and also within their own group - as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.
Sister Clodagh, currently posted at the Convent of the Order of the Servants of Mary in Calcutta, has just been appointed the Sister Superior of the St. Faith convent, making her the youngest sister superior in the order. The appointment is despite the reservations of the Reverend Mother who believes Sister Clodagh not ready for such an assignment, especially because of its isolated location. The convent will be a new one located in the mountainside Palace of Mopu in the Himalayas, and is only possible through the donation by General Todo Rai of Mopu - "The Old General" - of the palace, where the Old General's father formerly kept his concubines. On the Old General's directive, the convent is to provide schooling to the children and young women, and general dispensary services to all native residents who live in the valley below the palace. Accompanying Sister Clodagh will be four of the other nuns, each chosen for a specific reason: Sister Briony for her strength, Sister Phillipa who... Written by
Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is promoted to Sister Superior, and sent to establish an Anglican mission/convent/school in a remote village high in the Himalayas. With her she brings several other nuns (a level-headed Judith Furse, an older nun Flora Robson, and a neophyte Kathleen Byron). The strange atmosphere of this remote region affects all those involved. Ruth (Kathleen Byron) falls hopelessly in love with a British jack-of-all trades and local agent (David Farrar). The surrounding events and Farrar's presence also rekindle Kerr's memories of a failed love affair she once had with a young man (Shaun Noble). When Noble left her life, Jesus Christ entered, and Kerr became a nun. Jean Simmons plays a beautiful beggar girl, who is placed in the care of Kerr by Farrar. Simmons later becomes Prince Dilip Raj's (Sabu's) wife, of sorts. The most stunning scenes occur toward the end of the movie. Ruth's mental disintegration and her pathetic pass at Farrar are very sad. Ruth's change in appearance is visually riveting, as much perhaps as Isabelle Adjani's transformation in The Story of Adele H. The performances by Kerr and Byron are superlative, their facial expressions revealing deep heartfelt emotion and pain. If you think Holly Hunter did a great (non-speaking) acting job in The Piano, see Black Narcissus for a real revelation!
This Powell-Pressburger film is one of the most beautifully photographed color movies ever made. Black Narcissus won two Academy awards, for art direction and cinematography. It would take over 3 decades for a comparable film (Days of Heaven) to come along. If you are fortunate enough to have viewed the laserdisc version of the movie, you will be able to listen to Powell and Scorsese do a running commentary of the movie. Toward the end, you will learn how the final scene was shot to a film score, and not the other way around.
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