Monday, 19 December 2016

"Black Narcissus" review

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the famous directors of world cinema, despite the war and the subsequent economic depression, created one of their best films called "Black Narcissus" in 1947. This movie impressed the audience mostly with its visual style. Operator and art director for colour films even received "Oscars" for their work in "Black Narcissus". Thanks to their masterful work it seems like all actions in the movie took place in real Indian nature, but in fact, as Peter Cook(2012) points out "Practically the entire shoot took place on the back-lot of Pinewood Studios with a significant amount of matte painting[...]".These magical and very realistic matte painting were made by artist Walter Percy Day, who perfectly conveys us the atmosphere of India, its soul, culture and nature.(see fig.1) Sunlight in "Black Narcissus" was made by an artistic combination of studio's spotlights and lamps, which creates a fantastic play of light and shadow.
Fig 1. Magical matte painting by Walter Percy Day(2016)

The film depicts the conflict between the two civilisations. Five nuns are sent to Indian hinterland to teach medicine and teaching of Christ to its inhabitants. However, their mission fails, because Indian traditions and culture are richer and deeper to them than Christianity. Mr. Dean, a British agent, serves as a mediator between the two cultures. He "warns Sister Clodagh, leader of nuns,  that it will be tough for five nuns to have much of an impact on these stubborn people who have their traditions and ways."(Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat)
Despite their faith nuns cannot get rid of their all worldly temptations. Sister Phillipa begins to reminisce about her, apparently unhappy past. Instead of vegetables, she started to grow flowers. Abbess Sister Clodagh is young but very purposeful and enterprising. However, she does not always know what to do and what to say to keep peace among subordinates. "Black Narcissus" shows Sister Clodagh's emotional stress, the struggle between faith and not faith.
The image of the sister Ruth is at once very tragic, mad, full of confusion and lust for life. In the last scene when sister Ruth amazes the spectators with her crazy beauty: white skin, loose hair and bright eyes - a witch.(see fig.2) Succumbed to the Devil's temptation sister Ruth loses self-control because of her passion to Mr. Dean and jealousy to Sister Clodagh sister. Sunset above the mountains, full of pink and blue clouds adequately reflects the inner feeling of Sister Ruth: envy and anger.(see fig.3) All this leads to an utterly tragic ending. Adam Bagatavicius(2012) points out that "her revelatory changing of outfits[...] bookends to her ‘monstrous’ transformation from tainted, fraudulent nun to carnal, frenzied woman. "

Fig 2. Sister Ruth change to her worldly look (2015)       Fig.3 Sister Ruth and her inner world(2011)

In the end, the nuns are leaving the monastery, finally realising that they were just intruders(unbidden guests).And only one thing remains unchanged - a silent sage, still sitting on one of the slopes.

1. Cook, P. (2012) THE 50 GREATEST MATTE PAINTINGS OF ALL TIME - PAGE 2 OF 2, accessed on 18 December 2016.
2. Brussat, F. and Brussat, A. M., Black Narcissus,, accessed on 18 December 2016.
3. Bagatavicius, A. (2012) Bloodcurdling Holiness in Black Narcissus, accessed on 18 December 2016.


1. Figure 1.(2016)[Film Still], accessed on 18 December 2016.
2. Figure 2. Palmer Eldritch(2015)[Film Still], accessed on 18 December 2016.
3. Figure 3.(2011)[Film Still], accessed on 18 December 2016.

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