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 concubine. 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
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Old Edwardian Carol
Music by Sir Richard Terry
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Painting with Light
The story concerns a group of nuns opening a new convent school/health clinic high in the Indian Himalayas. The high altitude, the native people, and the mountain vistas, have profound effects on the woman, and each, in their own way, begins to question their commitment to their chosen life. The performances are good, though somewhat typical in that rather dry, post-war kind of way. Kathleen Byron makes a very modern attempt to create a startling and unusually frank image of female sexuality. Her quick kiss of Mr. Dean's hand as he evicts her from his home is part childish defiance, part serpent's bite, and is just one of the many highlights of her performance. The 70-year-old May Hallat is also note-worthy, creating a bizarre and thoroughly original character in the form of the servant Angu Ayah.
The movie's true stars however are production designer Alfred Junger and cinematographer, the legendary Jack Cardiff. Junger manages to create a vivid and hallucinatory vision of northern India on an English sound stage. The interiors of the crumbling palace, with their intricately carved screens and painted murals, are beautiful, and the courtyards, full of goats and chickens caught in the howling winds, convey an incredible air of authenticity. With a Technicolor camera, nobody ever really knew exactly how the developed film would look. All you could hope for was that a gifted cinematographer and a Technicolor consultant could twiddle those little dials in just the right way so as to alter the light spectrum and burn vibrant reds and haunting indigo onto the film forever. The virtual alchemy of the process, the unexpected serendipity, is what lends this film its excitement, and Cardiff's Oscar win is one of the most deserved in the Academy's history.
An amazing visual feast, that while lacking in strong performances, teaches us much of the bravery, science, craft and artistry of vintage cinema.
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