The Nun | Chicago Reader

The Nun

140 minutes 1966

Jacques Rivette's controversial though chaste second feature (1966), originally banned for a year both in France and for export, was trimmed and slightly reedited by its U.S. distributor (years later it was restored to its original form and 140-minute running time). As a direct and indirect commentary on institutional repression and the depravity that arises from compulsory religious training, it's a feminist movie with particular relevance for our era. Adapted from Denis Diderot's famous 18th-century novel about Suzanne Simonin (the remarkable Anna Karina)—an illegitimate teenager forced to enter a convent by her family—this is the most accessible by far of all of Rivette's features. It has a straightforward narrative that mainly concentrates on Suzanne's experiences at two convents—one severe and punitive, the other “progressive” and more worldly (though no less stifling for Suzanne when she finds herself pursued by the lesbian mother superior)—before she escapes to encounter a different kind of oppression in the world outside. Far from a nonbeliever, Suzanne is a devout character without a religious calling, and the film as a whole is a complex celebration of her continuous drive toward freedom. Rivette's highly original and formal “cellular” construction uses a striking contemporary score (by Jean-Claude Eloy) and selective sound effects (by Michel Fano) to balance the feeling of confinement with a nearly constant sense of the world outside; the intense mise en scene and use of camera movements often recall Carl Dreyer (though Rivette's conscious model was Kenji Mizoguchi); and the metallic colors and resourceful use of settings conspire to create a world that's both material and abstract. A great film that remains one of the cornerstones of the French New Wave, scripted by Rivette and Jean Gruault; with Micheline Presle, Liselotte Pulver, and Francisco Rabal.

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The Nun

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