Title: Black Narcissus
adapted from the novel by Rumer Godden
Music: Brian Easdale
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Eddie Whaley Jr.
A Powell-Pressburger collaboration recounts a quintet of nuns, running a convent in the exotic Himalayas mountainside, they teach lessons to native children, attend to the sick, plant vegetables, but their inner conviction is slowly eroding in the sequestered environment, in particular the restrained sexuality has been awaken by a male interloper, then madness and bedlam start to riot.
The most conspicuous feat of this 1947 Technicolor film is its remarkable cinematography (intense closeups, picturesque wide angles, tonal flashback shots etc.) and the art direction (the entire setting is built on studio lot yet it still can blow your mind away by its plainly stunning beauty), deservingly it won 2 Oscars in these categories, but shockingly, the film is shunned in all other competitions.
Adopted from Rumor Godden’s novel, the film bears plenty of effort to underline the ethnic and religious disparities, although hiring Jean Simmons as an indigenous maiden without a single line but crudely emphasizing her sensuality and materialism is a cheap shot betrays the supremacy beneath the benefactor’s benevolent smokescreen. Surely it is a UK production, unfortunately it is so scarce that an outsider can break out of the tunnel vision which hobbles one’s full comprehension of another culture or lifestyle, even as acute and astute as team Powell-Pressburger.
A young Deborah Kerr brings about a broad range of capacities to endow Sister Clodaph with the contradicting personae which challenges her belief in a dire situation, her self-restraint battles with her yen towards a macho worldly man Mr. Dean (Farrar), a high-caliber rendition superbly counteracts Byron’s Sister Ruth, a demented and vindictive soul can set the world on fire, Byron’s explosive menace is spot-on and spine-thrilling, while both her and Kerr’s images sport secular costumes are illuminating the screen leaving indelible glamour. Farrar’s rustic countenance and rugged roughness makes him an apt choice for the sexual object and Sabu, whose effeminate manners could also spark controversy with his underdeveloped sub-plot.
BLACK NARCISSUS, by any criterion, is an unanimous and momentous accomplishment in the film history, it is a concisely-designed psycho-drama and a nod to its vertiginous climax – a heartfelt cliffhanger in its literal meaning.