Monday, March 18, 2013

The Monk (Le Moine)

THE MONK (Le Moine)         D  
France  Spain  (101 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Dominik Moll             Official site [es]

An unbelievably morbid, dreary, and gloomy picture that seems to think no one has ever seen Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert (Simón del Desierto) (1965), a much better,  near perfect, and utterly hilarious version of an agonizing ascetic, loosely based on the actual life of Simeon Stylites, who reportedly spent 37 years on a tower during the 5th century, the picture of saintly piety, denying himself all earthly pleasures, though he is challenged by the Devil in various disguises, Sylvia Pinal as a sexual temptress urging Simon to come down from his lonely wooden tower.  What Buñuel does in 45 minutes is a sheer delight compared to this pretentious and overly pompous waste of time, a film that, despite its surrealist attempts, couldn’t be more dramatically dull and predictable.  Despite a rather listless performance from Vincent Cassel as the title character in the 16th century, a young priest who is all too easily led astray, the overly somber mood literally sucks all the life out of the picture, drowning the film in its own seriousness and self-pity.  While it’s not completely without a few memorable moments, they never elevate the material out of the deeply ingrained atmosphere of doom that saturates the overall mood of the film.  This is something that would be better served by Mel Brooks in the era of Madeline Kahn and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) or even DE DUVA (1968) Madeline Kahn - DE DUVA (The Dove) - 1968 Funny! - YouTube (14:03), where a little outrageous humor is needed.  Instead we get overly dark images of the cloistered life of the priesthood, where Cassel as a baby is left at the doorstep of a monastery with a diabolical crow picking at its diaper before he’s discovered by a Franciscan monk.  Over time, he joins the order of the Capucin Friars that raised him, becoming a local legend, a beloved priest whose energizing sermons fill the church with onlookers and curious admirers who come from miles around to hear him preach, where in his steadfast devotion and goodness he seems touched by the hand of the Lord.

Based on Matthew G. Lewis's 18th Century novel, Ambrosio (Cassel) defends himself from criticism by the devoutness of his commitment to Christ, where those that stray can only blame themselves, in his view, as “Satan only has the power we give him.”  An early sexually explicit confession by an admitted child molester known only as Le Débauché (Sergi López) over the opening credits seems to test his worldliness, as he’s largely been educated with books in a protected and cloistered environment, having no understanding of the goings on in the real world, yet he’s called upon to pass judgment and holy penitence on the lives of ordinary people.  Early on his goodness is challenged when he condemns a young nun for the crime of pregnancy, where she dies starving in prison, blaming him for her fate, sending an ominous signal to the parishioners.  Suddenly the floodgates of damnation open their gates and through the temptation of Satan, the young priest is finally tested by the acts of a young sexual temptress that he initially rebuffs, but a near fatal insect bite changes all that, where as she stands watch over him, she makes her move after all the others finally leave her alone at his bedside, an unthinkable act in itself.  Using an experimental montage of multiple videos mixed together, suggesting a subconscious, dream-like state, she has her way sexually with the young monk while he’s in a state of delirium, an act that he only recalls in his subconscious.  From that point on, there are continual surrealist gestures to show how the shape-shifting Satan can assume the form of anyone or anything in order to bring about the damnation of one’s soul.  The one interesting sequence is a candlelit religious procession with candles placed atop men’s heads, dripping candle wax down their cheeks, where suffering pain has always been associated with spiritual belief, where the more pain you can endure, the closer you are to God, a belief that is not only Christian, where to this day, despite strong condemnation from the Catholic church, devotees in Mexico and the Philippines have been known to re-enact the crucifixion ceremony driving nails into the hands ( Warning: Raw Video: Philippine Crucifixion Re-enactment - YouTube 1:21), but also Hindu religious piercings where cheeks and other body parts are pierced by metal rods and needles as an expression of religious devotion.   

The use of light is a conscious contrast, as the cloistered life inside the confines of the church remains excessively dark, where it appears only natural light is used, with a flood of images showing hooded monks quietly walking through the darkened corridors.  Once outside, however, the brightness of the sun reveals a scorched earth outside, where the desert grounds are baked in the hot sun.  The biggest disappointment of the film is the toxic atmosphere of utter indifference that permeates the entire film, as if living in the darkness chokes away the spirit of life, where there’s simply no dramatic interest, especially when it veers into the realms of a horror film.  When we see the image of a man living among the pigs, perhaps an example of Satan lurking in their midst, he’s completely ignored by everyone passing by, making no attempt whatsoever to connect this strangeness to anything, as if this is a common everyday occurrence.  When no one remarks or says anything, the incident is ignored, a perfect example of the lethargy existing within the film itself, where if the characters don’t care, why should the audience?  This deflation of interest literally destroys whatever connection might otherwise be made by viewers, as every single character takes themselves so seriously, reflected through a shrouded layer of darkness, overly somber moods, the same religious music that repeats itself throughout, where after awhile one gets sick of this dreary, one-note presentation.  There’s none of the usual cleverness from this director, where you’d think with some surrealist imagery and Satan (Sergi López) eventually showing himself to the young monk, using against him the exact same words from his sermon, which have a completely different connotation on the other side of the pulpit, that there would be some shred of interest, but incredibly there’s not, largely due to the film’s own detachment and aloofness, where by the end, nothing really matters anymore.  Much of this film is so over the top it’s laughable and is a major bust.   

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