Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Monk

Adaptation of gothic classic pleases the eye but ultimately disappoints.

March 7, 2013

-By Bernard Besserglik


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372748-Monk_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Starring Vincent Cassel in a generously budgeted adaptation of a classic gothic novel, Dominik Moll's The Monk—only his fourth feature in nearly two decades—arrives trailing high expectations. The presence of France's currently most bankable male lead and the promise of lurid content may well attract audiences, but ultimately the movie disappoints, falling between two stools and failing to convince either as spectacle or as a fable about religious obsession.

The story unravels the career of the Franciscan monk Ambrosio (Cassel), who, after being abandoned as a baby at the door of a monastery, is raised by the friars and becomes an accomplished preacher, admired for his rigor and irreproachable conduct. His troubles begin when a young novice is admitted to the community ostensibly “to be closer to God.” The newcomer wears a mask, explaining that he has been disfigured in a fire, but proves in reality to be a woman (Deborah Francois), an envoy of Satan bent on exposing Ambrosio to the temptations of the flesh. She succeeds so well that soon enough he has set his sights on Antonia (Joséphine Japy), a virtuous young woman who lives in a nearby castle with her mother Elvira (Catherine Michet) and is being courted by the earnest swain Lorenzo (Frédéric Noialle).

Set in 17th-century Spain, the movie is never less than handsomely mounted, alternating between the stark chiaroscuro of the interiors and the sun-drenched urban or desert-like exteriors of Catalonia. Moll has an eye for painterly compositions, in keeping with the high-mindedness of his intentions. His direction and Cassel's interpretation of Ambrosio's descent into evil are admirably restrained.

That is perhaps where the problem lies. Matthew Lewis' novel must have appeared sulphurous on its publication in 1796—indeed, it was banned for several years—but for today's audiences the association of religion, sex and satanism has acquired a dated quality. Moll runs dutifully through the catalogue of gothic symbolism (ravens for ill omen, flames for sexual desire, gargoyles for grinning evil), but might have been better advised to go for the over-the-top baroque style favored by, for example, Ken Russell's The Devils, another tale of satanic mischief-making.

The screenplay, co-written by Moll and Anne-Louise Trividic, is at times labored and the gobbets of theological wisdom we're offered (sample: Satan only has the power that we grant him) ring hollow. The accomplished visual and technical specifics are sufficient to keep the spectator engaged until, around the hour-mark, it teeters into the ridiculous. Film buffs are left to wonder what the story might have become in the hands of a director with fully paid-up anti-clerical credentials such as Luis Buñuel, who did at one point write a script, with Jean-Claude Carriere, for a movie version that never made it into production.
The Hollywood Reporter


Film Review: The Monk

Adaptation of gothic classic pleases the eye but ultimately disappoints.

March 7, 2013

-By Bernard Besserglik


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372748-Monk_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Starring Vincent Cassel in a generously budgeted adaptation of a classic gothic novel, Dominik Moll's The Monk—only his fourth feature in nearly two decades—arrives trailing high expectations. The presence of France's currently most bankable male lead and the promise of lurid content may well attract audiences, but ultimately the movie disappoints, falling between two stools and failing to convince either as spectacle or as a fable about religious obsession.

The story unravels the career of the Franciscan monk Ambrosio (Cassel), who, after being abandoned as a baby at the door of a monastery, is raised by the friars and becomes an accomplished preacher, admired for his rigor and irreproachable conduct. His troubles begin when a young novice is admitted to the community ostensibly “to be closer to God.” The newcomer wears a mask, explaining that he has been disfigured in a fire, but proves in reality to be a woman (Deborah Francois), an envoy of Satan bent on exposing Ambrosio to the temptations of the flesh. She succeeds so well that soon enough he has set his sights on Antonia (Joséphine Japy), a virtuous young woman who lives in a nearby castle with her mother Elvira (Catherine Michet) and is being courted by the earnest swain Lorenzo (Frédéric Noialle).

Set in 17th-century Spain, the movie is never less than handsomely mounted, alternating between the stark chiaroscuro of the interiors and the sun-drenched urban or desert-like exteriors of Catalonia. Moll has an eye for painterly compositions, in keeping with the high-mindedness of his intentions. His direction and Cassel's interpretation of Ambrosio's descent into evil are admirably restrained.

That is perhaps where the problem lies. Matthew Lewis' novel must have appeared sulphurous on its publication in 1796—indeed, it was banned for several years—but for today's audiences the association of religion, sex and satanism has acquired a dated quality. Moll runs dutifully through the catalogue of gothic symbolism (ravens for ill omen, flames for sexual desire, gargoyles for grinning evil), but might have been better advised to go for the over-the-top baroque style favored by, for example, Ken Russell's The Devils, another tale of satanic mischief-making.

The screenplay, co-written by Moll and Anne-Louise Trividic, is at times labored and the gobbets of theological wisdom we're offered (sample: Satan only has the power that we grant him) ring hollow. The accomplished visual and technical specifics are sufficient to keep the spectator engaged until, around the hour-mark, it teeters into the ridiculous. Film buffs are left to wonder what the story might have become in the hands of a director with fully paid-up anti-clerical credentials such as Luis Buñuel, who did at one point write a script, with Jean-Claude Carriere, for a movie version that never made it into production.
The Hollywood Reporter
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

A Long Way Down
Film Review: A Long Way Down

The plot of A Long Way Down is as awkward and as annoying as they come, but some really good acting by the film’s four major stars almost makes this one worth seeing. Almost. More »

Land Ho
Film Review: Land Ho!

A pair of seniors find friendship and renewal on a road trip through Iceland, but the journey is flatlined by lack of incident and tedious naturalism. More »

Rage
Film Review: Rage

In different hands, Rage could have been a devastating chronicle of the sins of the fathers being visited on their children, friends and random unfortunates. But Andalusian filmmaker Paco Cabezas, making his English-language directing debut, is unable to keep the complicated story and international cast in line; the results are never dull but are sometimes unintentionally hilarious. More »

Affluenza
Film Review: Affluenza

Handsome-looking but all-too-familiar drama about wealthy Long Island teens with too much money and time on their hands makes no inroads into the adolescent angst that afflicts the silver-spoon set. Like the recent and aggressively marketed Palo Alto, a screen pulse may awaken in ancillaries. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Dawn of the Apes review
Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes successfully restarted the dormant Apes franchise, the superior Dawn indicates the grand saga this new iteration might become. More »

Tammy
Film Review: Tammy

Hollywood’s most bankable big-screen comedienne is on the buddy-comedy road again, with a most worthy companion—a brilliantly out-there Susan Sarandon. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here