Sunday, 12 February 2012

Les Anges du péché - Review by Greg Klymkiw - WOW! Bresson does nunsploitation with, of course, that Ole' Bresson Black Magic! "Les Anges du péché" is part of the continuing TIFF Cinematheque retrospective of the complete works of Robert Bresson as organized/curated by legendary film programmer/curator James Quandt. MAJOR NEWSFLASH FOR TORONTO MOVIE-GOERS - AN ADDITIONAL SHOW HAS BEEN ADDED DUE TO PUBLIC DEMAND!!!! (see below for more info)

Les Anges du péché (1943) dir. Robert Bresson
Starring: Renée Faure, Jany Holt


By Greg Klymkiw

Robert Bresson does nunsploitation like no other!

Well, I guess Les Anges du péché doesn't really count as nunsploitation, but I'd hazard a guess that many of those crazed practitioners of the popular Euro-trash genre of the 70s would have been acquainted with Bresson's weird, compelling semi-thriller (and, for good measure, Powell-Pressburger's crazed-nutty-nun-o-rama in the Himalayas, Black Narcissus).

Nunsploitation, much like Nazisploitation (Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S.) and the Women-in-Prison pictures (Jonathan Demme's Caged Heat), was one of those weird 70s genres involving sex, sadism and gore-galore. The nunsploitation flicks featured extremely attractive Euro-babes in nun habits indulging in all manner of perversion - including the requisite nun-on-nun-action, due, of course, to their cloistered Über repression. There'd often be a strict Mother Superior (not unlike a concentration camp commandant or prison warden), a good nun, a bad nun and everything in-between. Les Anges du péché is populated with similar characters, though you might have to use a bit more imagination conjuring up the decidedly salacious details of its 70s grandchildren.

The nun pictures, were always my favourite of these disreputable 70s genres (perhaps being brought up in the twisted Eastern-Rite Ukrainian Catholic Church had something to do with it, in addition, no doubt, to the fine programming available at the delectable array of urine-soaked, cum-stained, hooker-heaven grindhouses in my old Winter City of Winnipeg). Many of them, like Guilio Berruti's delightful Killer Nun with Anita Ekberg and Joe Dallesandro, Joe D'Amato's deliciously sexy The Nun and the Devil and Gianfranco Mingozzi's genuinely fine Flavia the Heretic with the phenomenal Florinda Bolkan, all featured critical portraits of the Catholic Church. However, amongst such "serious" anti-Papal thematic concerns, they were blessed with generous dollops of flagellation and fleshly desires. (Flagellation can, of course, be found in Carl Dreyer, but you've gotta scratch below the surface to find it in Bresson. Fleshly desires in Bresson, are a bit easier to pinpoint, though.)

I doubt Powell-Pressburger would have minded the (somewhat) dubious distinction of being a precursor to the nunsploitation genre with their own Black Narcissus, but something tells me Robert Bresson might have had a thing or two to say about it.

Les Anges du péché is a tremendously entertaining picture. It's often considered his first film (though he had already delivered the delightful musical-comedy Affaires publiques about ten years earlier).

And what a movie!

Though it features the beginnings of what would become his trademark style, as well as themes not dissimilar to those on display in the later Diary of a Country Priest, Bresson delivers a gorgeously photographed, almost expressionistic semi-thriller in a studio-bound melodrama.

We follow the tale of Anne-Marie (Renée Faure), a young (babe, 'natch!) who abandons her life of privilege to join a convent of nuns to serve God in his work amongst the female criminals in a nearby prison.

(Yee-haaa! Bresson does nunsploitation AND women-in-prison! Sorry, Robert, I'm no doubt forcing you to spin in your grave.)

One of Anne-Marie's goals is to work on the unrepentant prisoner Thérèse (Jany Holt). Not unlike the 70s women in prison pictures, she's lacking remorse for her "crime" because she's taken the fall for her loser boyfriend who was, in fact, the real thief. She just wants to serve her time quietly (not unlike the silence of the nunnery).

Disaster strikes when a brutal murder is committed and the nuns are forced to provide sanctuary. The bourgeois Anne-Marie faces an even greater challenge here - one that leads to a deadly dénouement.

Good Lord! Bresson even provides a cinematic precursor to the delightful Gialli popularized by the likes of Dario Argento ande Mario Bava, etc. (Yes, Robert, I know - you're spinning like a dervish now!)

Seriously, though, this is really terrific stuff.

Not only do we experience Bresson delivering a picture replete with both his style AND the tropes of mainstream suspense, but the movie - made during the Nazi occupation of France - deals very cleverly and subtly with the way in which the nunnery operates in comparison to the prison and most importantly, how the secular world is essentially the Vichy and the religious world, the Resistance.

There's no other way to describe it - Les Anges du péché is cool!

No, it's Über-Cool!!!

Some might find it odd to equate this picture with the aforementioned genres of the 70s, but I think it's important for Bresson to be viewed outside of the normally rarefied atmosphere of critical deification that his work is so often subject to. He inspired and influenced filmmakers of every stripe and I'd argue that his best work, while truly extraordinary, is as gripping and entertaining as that of those who worked and continue to work - not only in art films, but in genre pictures and the mainstream.

Bresson is probably one of a handful of directors who deserves to be considered one of the best of all time. I find him untouchable, in that sense.

However, in the words of an old-time film distributor I used to know, Bresson puts one "one helluva great show!"

"Les Anges du péché" is part of the TIFF Cinemtheque's major retrospective organized and curated by the legendary programmer James Quandt. Aptly titled "The Poetry of Precision: The Films of Robert Bresson", this and every other Bresson film is unspooling at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto and over a dozen cinemas across North America. "Les Anges du péché" is also available on a stunning import DVD. This is definitely worth owning, but only AFTER or in TANDEM with seeing the picture ON A BIG SCREEN - ON FILM.

"Les Anges du péché" is screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox for ONE SHOW ONLY Thursday February 16 at 6:30 PM. DO NOT MISS THIS!!! ONE SHOW ONLY!!!


The second show is playing Sunday, February 26 at 8pm.

To order tickets and read Quandt's fabulous program notes, visit the TIFF website HERE.

To read my opening tribute to Bresson and this series, feel free to visit The Robert Bresson Man-Cave™ HERE. I am reviewing every film Bresson ever made. In case you missed it, my review of "A Man Escaped" is HERE, my review of "Pickpocket" is HERE, my review of "Mouchette" is HERE and my review of "Diary of a Country Priest" is HERE.