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The Monk

The Monk

Released 27 April 2012
Director Dominik Moll
Starring


Vincent Cassel, Déborah Francois, Joséphine Japy, Sergi López, Catherine Mouchet
Writer(s)

Dominik Moll, Anne-Louise Trividic
Producer(s) Michel Saint-Jean
Origin Spain, France
Running Time 101 minutes
Genre Thriller
Rating 15A
70

Dark habits.

There were a lot of prescribed texts that I just never got around to reading when I was studying English in college. As a general rule it tended to be the ones that were the weight and size of a house brick. The Monk by M.G. Lewis though, I gobbled up. A Gothic novel published in 1796 revolving around religion, temptation and sin, it plays out like a fever dream filled with florid and grotesque imagery. This adaptation, directed by Dominik Moll and starring Vincent Cassel in the title role, is rather more restrained and chooses to narrow the focus of the narrative. Leaving out some of the more gruesome and supernatural plotlines (most notably The Bleeding Nun), it instead plays as a close character study of the monk and his fall from grace.

On a dark night in Madrid, a baby is left on the steps of a monastery. The monks take the baby as their own and school him in the ways of their order. Years later the boy has grown into a well renowned and well respected preacher named Ambrosio (Cassel). People come from all over to hear him speak and confess their sins. When a mysterious masked novice comes to study at the monastery, a series of strange events cause Ambrosio’s faith to be corrupted. He finds himself no longer able to resist the temptations he has spent his life preaching against.

Despite being a streamlined version of the story, The Monk is still an interesting piece of work. Visually arresting, Moll makes brilliant use of the contrast between the cool stone halls of the monastery and the scorched, desolate landscape that surrounds it. These stark, atmospheric backgrounds make effective backdrops for some unsettling images; visions of a red cloaked woman kneeling in the bleached sand and the iron-masked novice appearing suddenly in the shadowy courtyard stay in the mind’s eye long after the film has ended. But it’s not all about the visuals; Cassel is excellent in the title role, equally believable as a the pious orator and the basest of sinners. He dominates the film completely.

Moll’s film is by no means the definitive version of this story but it is an interesting attempt. Though it lacks the Gothic excess of the novel, it has enough atmosphere and visual flair to make it memorable in its own right.

- Linda O’Brien