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Mise-en-scene Film Review Black Narcissus

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Black Narcissus was made in 1947 and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who were known as The Archers after their company name. The film is famous for its wide use matte paintings in the scenery and the fact that it was all filmed purely in a studio and the vast landscapes that are viewed in the film. Plot: A group of five British nuns, led by Sister Clodagh, travel to India, to set up a new convent, school and hospital in the Himalayas. The convent is old and dilapidated, housed in a former monastery, situated on the edge of a towering cliff, which seems to have been used as a brothel in the meantime. Mr Dean, the agent to the local general, tells them to be wary of nursing patients who are likely to die, as it is likely the villagers will blame the nuns for any deaths. The isolated mountain setting, with its stunning scenery and magical air, along with local cultures and tradition, all start to affect the nuns in various ways. Sister Clodaghs memories of a romance she had before becoming a nun rise to the surface. Her friendship with Mr Dean causes another of the women, Sister Ruth, to be so jealous that she has a mental breakdown, leading to a tragedy. Black Narcissus was filmed entirely in Britain at the famous Pinewood Studios. The art technique of trompe loeil which is French for fool the eye was used to create very realistic 3D optical illusions of the backdrops of huge mountains, steep vertical

drops from the cliffs, and breath taking panoramic views of fields and forests. These could compare very well with modern CGI techniques and it is amazing to think what the Archers could have achieved if they had had computers available to them in 1947.
- The vast landscapes they dream up and invent on the backlots of Pinewood Studios are glorious in their detail and realism. Using every tool at their disposal, including trompe l'oeil matte paintings, they create distance and depth. The seclusion of the nunnery is made very real by the magnitude of the mountains that surround them and the terrifying drop that awaits them at the edge of their property. - J. Rich, 2010

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There are various sounds constantly being heard throughout the film, the wind is always blowing and howling about the convent, along with the bell ringing and echoing around the mountains. In the distance the beating of drums filters up from the native village along with the mournful blast of horns; these sounds blend with the wind and become part of it. Jingling bells and bracelets signal every time the young General or Kanchi, the trouble-making native girl, appear on screen.
- In this mountain stronghold, the wind is always blowing, in powerful gusts that make the nuns' habits flutter in long trails around their heads. The wind's howl and low whisper is omnipresent on the soundtrack, whistling through the convent's halls. - E. Howard, 2009

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The convent is presented as dull, grey and far away. Along with the greys and whites of the nuns habits, and the way they stick to their beliefs, it all seems cold and unemotional. In contrast the Indian village and its inhabitants are shown in bright, vibrant colours, looking full of life. As the film progresses the dull, greyness of the convent is slowly taken over by a fierce red that signifies the ever decaying sanity of the nun. The red also signifies the feeling of temptation taking over Sister Ruth as she reflects on her past love affair, stops being a nun and applies her red lipstick to attract Mr Dean as well as her blood red dress. When the final face-off commences at the bell tower and Sister Ruth falls to her death suddenly the dark stormy weather that is used to create a dramatic effect, subsides and the hue/filter of the scenes are back to normal.
- The local Indian populace is backdropped with vibrant color, looking more natural and lively. But it is in the second half of the film where Powell's use of Technicolor is stunning. The introduction of the more vibrant hues dominate the film. The use of red is feverish and is as effective and foreboding as Nicholas Roeg's DON'T LOOK NOW. Even the absence of color and use of shadows serves a purpose that would make any horror movie lover proud, once Sister Clodagh and Sister Ruth have their final face-off. - M. Mirasol, 2010

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Illustrations Figure 1: http://www.movieposterstudio.com/detail.aspx?ItemNumber=1714 Figure 2: http://www.cinematography.com/index.php?showtopic=28048 Figure 3: http://acollectionofourlives.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/narcissus.html Figure 4: http://videokrypt.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/black-narcissus-nuns-in-heatin-glorious-technicolour/

Bibliography Rich, 2010, Available at: http://www.criterionconfessions.com/ Review: http://www.criterionconfessions.com/2010/07/black-narcissus-93.html [Accessed online 31st November 2012] Howard, 2009, Available at: http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.co.uk/ Review: http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/black-narcissus.html [Accessed online 31st November 2012] Mirasol, 2010, Available at: http://michaelmirasol.com/ Review: http://blogs.suntimes.com/foreignc/2010/03/black-narcissus-by-michaelmirasol-of-manila.html [Accessed online 31st November 2012]

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