Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Rest For The Wicked

The Devils(1971)
Directed By Ken Russell
"We shall have pleasure without end, a series of infinite beginnings, and sensual delights everlasting."
"...I'm pregnant"
"And so it ends."
Vanessa Redgrave steals the show in one of the most intense films I’ve ever seen. Amazing sets, editing techniques are both brutal and brilliant at times and performances, dialogue, monologues, and music, as close to perfection as they get. Although Oliver Reed is a close second for great actors in this, as the greatest/worst priest ever. The story is about Loudon, France in the 1634, a town that has just survived the Protestant vs. Catholic religious wars, due to the sound mind of their governor who has just died, and who was openly tolerant of both sides during a period where they were tearing each other to pieces. The plague rages everywhere, and we get a first hand look at the psychotic "cures" for disease, which though not curing you, would insure you died an especially torturous death; like with jars of wasps dug into your skin and a crocodiles corpse between your legs. "What fresh lunacy is this?"
Oliver Reed plays Father Grandier, a libertine priest, who of sound and progressive mind when it comes to political and social life, moonlights as the towns ladies man. He is also cruel and selfish, the first line in this review are his, when the father of the student he impregnated confronts him, "I'll see you in hell Grandier!", "Walking on a living pavement of aborted bastards no doubt!” he says with a smile.Vanessa Redgrave is mother superior in the town, and Grandier being the highest up priest, and most handsome, is something of a sex object to her and her fellow nuns. She fantasizes about him walking across the water and embracing her. She also has a hunchback, from a deformed spine, which has left her with a severe inferiority complex and a viscous streak a mile wide. Redragave asks a girl why she thinks most of the nuns are there, the girl responds, "because they want to serve God?", which Redgrave laughs off, "Most of the sisters are here because their families were too poor to afford a proper dowry, or else they were too ugly or inept to be married off."There is a Cardinal Richelieu who wants to drive out all of the Protestants and create a France where Church and state are one, but Loudon, serves as haven for religious integration and general progressiveness. Redgrave lust for Grandier becomes all consuming, and out of jealously, madness, or self loathing, she fabricates a story of her being seduced by him, and when the Cardinal get's a whiff of this, he sends a full Inquisition and the story expands, to Grandier seducing the whole convent into Satanic orgies with him and various demons. Redgrave and her fellow nuns are told they were made "whores of the devil" and encouraged/threatened/ordered to act the part, they run naked, speak blasphemies, and dance around in the forest, etc, 16th century "Girls Gone Wild" basically. They follow suit as daughters of the Devil, just as strongly as they followed suit as daughters of God, as it's all a matter of whose calling the shots, and the malleability between the two is what Russel wants to highlight for us. Of course, this is after the severe torture to attempt to drive the devils out of them. Especially harsh for Redgrave...and not for the weak of stomach.Grandier is put on trial, and has to defend himself, and reason in general, in a world where madness is a greater political tool. Though far from moral (no one in this film is), Grandier is the lesser evil. But his reputation for seducing the town's maidens, work against this favor, especially after knocking up the magistrates daughter. The trial is a freak show, a carnival, and a debauched pornographic spectacle, that repulses the King, initially, but comes to be viewed as an entertainment, by him and the rest of the town. And what effect can reason have on spectacle?The relationship between repression, perversion, and righteousness get's put under the microscope. The masses who attend services and the trial are just as interested in hearing the juicy details of the sins, as they are the right way of living (which in the backward, throw our shit out the windows and live in our own filth, 17th century Europe could be just about anything).This just may be too much for some though, it really is horrifying, but no better film explores, sex/pain, political/personal, spiritual/physical, and male/female relationships between nuns & priests and the masses and their authority figures. Based loosely on a book by Aldous Huxley, about the real life witch trials at Loudon in the 1700's, Ken Russell theatricality (finally) perfectly fits the material.Russel uses amazing sets design and huge crowds, to transport us into the plagued city gone mad. The play's within the film and the processesions, and meetings, have a grandeur and opulence that isn’t an opposite of the chaos and anarchy around them but an extension of it. Just as Russel leads us to see, sin and The Devil, as not so much opposites of religious hierarchy but extensions of them, margins which establish the potency of the center.It's also wickedly funny, and surprisingly moving, and emotional. Grandeir is a believable anti-hero, and Redgrave is electrifying, sympathetic, and pathetically sad, in the same breath. Her laugh in this freaks me out so much! The dark ages, were truly a terrifying and psychotic period, in human history, and Russel's firebrand style is perfectly suited for its exposition.The Devils was largely ignored on its release because of its graphic everything. I decided to write a new review of this, since my last one, didn’t come close to doing it justice. It's still explosive and disturbing by modern film standards, and even in the free-wheeling seventies I can see how this would rub allot of people the wrong way. It features top caliber acting, virtuoso directing, and a story as exhausting as it is devasting, and mind boggling for its basis in actual history. Not for the faint of heart. But recommended viewing for anyone interested in a true forgotten masterpiece of cinema. "The Crucible" on an epic scale, where the madness of the characters spills over into the form of the film itself.

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