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.
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Sister Clodah is dispatched with four other nuns to establish a new convent far in the Himalayas. It's a difficult journey and their new house is a ramshackle old building on the edge of a cliff that had been abandoned by a religious Brotherhood many years before. They soon establish a school and an infirmary though the local General's agent, Mr. Dean, warns them against treating the deathly ill as they would no doubt be blamed if the patient doesn't recover. The location, the culture and the mountain air all begin to have a strange effect on the Sisters. Sister Clodagh, who is also on her first assignment as Sister Superior, begins to remember a romance she had as a young woman before entering the sisterhood. Another however, becomes obsessed with Mr. Dean, which leads to tragedy. Written by
Jack Cardiff drew inspiration for his shots from the great painters; he experimented with the tones of Van Gogh, for example, or the reds and greens from Rembrandt. In her British Film Guide book on Black Narcissus, Sarah Smith quotes Cardiff, who explained the influence of Vermeer and Caravaggio: "They both lit with very simple light. Many painters did, but with Vermeer and Caravaggio you were very conscious of it; they really used the shadows. Caravaggio would just have one sweeping light over everything so that you were aware of the single light." The resulting lighting was unusual for Technicolor films of the time, and initially caused concern for Technicolor consultant Natalie Kalmus. She grew to appreciate the look Cardiff was creating once she saw the initial rushes, however. See more »
(at around 1h 35 mins) Sister Ruth picks up Mr. Dean's pipe, which is 'smoking', from an ashtray. She walks away, still holding the pipe, and the ashtray continues to emitting trails of smoke. See more »
The Old General:
[Dictating his orders for welcoming the soon-to-arrive nuns]
Mr. Dean! You will receive them for me, and you will do everything for them that they want doing.
The Old General:
[Now turning his attention to Ayah]
You too. You will engage servants for them, and you will both look after them until they care to look after themselves.
What do they eat? How do I know what nuns eat?
The Old General:
I have remembered that.
The Old General:
[...] See more »
Opening credits:- Convent of the Order of the Servants Calcutta See more »
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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