From The Devils to Doubt, film-makers’ passion for holy havoc continues, as two very different movies called The Nun are released this summer
Some habits prove hard to kick. There are two films named The Nun out this summer: a gorgeous restoration of Jacques Rivette’s banned 1966 film starring Anna Karina, and a new prequel in The Conjuring franchise directed by Corin Hardy, in which demon nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons) from The Conjuring 2 torments the novice Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) in a Romanian abbey. Clearly, the convent exerts a special fascination on film-makers, because nuns, whether reluctant, rebellious, devout or possessed, have cropped up in many memorable, often controversial, movies.
Valak’s hellish reappearance is hardly designed to please church elders, but Rivette’s film, too, was initially banned in France, a decision that director Jean-Luc Godard likened to a “Gestapo of the mind”. It was released a couple of years later, after it had won applause at the Cannes film festival. It is based on an 18th-century novel by Denis Diderot and follows the progress of an illegitimate teenager, Suzanne (Karina), forced into a convent against her will. It is an austere, elegant adaptation of its satirical source, with long, gruelling takes, an intrusive experimental soundtrack and a passionate central performance from Karina as the young nun, persecuted by a sadistic mother superior in one convent, and sexually harassed by another in a second.