Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus is one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, along with The Red Shoes, The Life of Pi, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie and Malena.
Shot in 1947, this film did not have the special effects that today’s films use and yet it still delivers. Many directors and actors cite Black Narcissus as a great example of stunning cinematography.
Beautiful as the film is, the cast and story are wonderful too. I grew up watching a lot of movies from the 30’s and 40’s and what I like about these eras are the number of stories written for women. These were proper stories instead of women running around in short skirts being ‘ditzy’. Personally, I feel this is the best performance Deborah Kerr has given in a film.
A group of Anglican nuns move into what used to be an old palace in the Himalyas to set up a convent. They want to run a school to educate the local children, as well as administer first aid and help the sick. Tensions start to mount between Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), who is mentally unstable, and Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), who has only recently become Sister Superior. The nuns rescue a young girl called Kanchi (Jean Simmons) from a beating and take her back to the convent to live. They seem part-horrified, part-intrigued by the young girl’s blatant sexuality. Caught up in this is Mr Dean (David Farrar) who acts as an agent between the nuns and the locals. Sister Ruth sees that Mr Dean likes Sister Clodagh and becomes irrationally jealous of their burdening friendship as she likes him herself. Things escalate and lead to a dramatic conclusion.
Even though the air is fresh, the mountains/surroundings are vast, the flowers bright, and the sky is blue, as a viewer you can feel the intense claustrophobia that starts to effect the nuns’ behaviour. The old palace has a brooding menace that haunts every shadow and corner. You can see how somebody already unwell could lose their mind.
If you love old movies, beautiful cinematography and a good tale, then I thoroughly recommend Black Narcissus.
What is the most beautiful film you have ever seen?