Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal (1971)

... aka: But Don't Deliver Us from Evil
... aka: Don't Deliver Us from Evil

Directed by:
Joël Séria

Going into this blindly, I expected Satanic schoolgirls in a convent but instead, much to my surprise, got an early telling of the real-life Pauline Parker / Juliet Hulme murder case that scandalized New Zealand in the 1950s; a story later brilliantly told again by Peter Jackson in his breakthrough film Heavenly Creatures (1994). While Deliver may have beaten Jackson's movie to the punch by over two decades, Creatures is clearly the superior film of the two. For starters, it's factually more accurate in regards to the real case; even frequently utilizing direct excerpts from Pauline's diary in telling the story. Second, it attempts to actually flesh out the characters and make sense of both the brutal crime and the girls' odd, unhealthy and obsessive relationship. Finally, it's more visually inventive, better-paced, directed, written, shot and acted. Comparing both films side by side, Deliver seems downright primitive by comparison with numerous scenes dragged out endlessly for no reason whatsoever and all of the insight, intelligence and depth of the later film stripped away. In other words, there's a good reason Creatures is famous and this film is not. However, it's hardly fair to penalize Deliver because another film came along later and did the same thing better, so I'll be judging it on its own terms.

Things center around Anne de Boissy (Jeanne Goupil) and Lore Fournier (Catherine Wagener), a pair of rebellious teen sociopaths who get a kick out of doing various evil things. As Anne writes in her diary (which is used to narrate portions of the movie): "To sin has become our chief aim. Let the other idiots live their lives doing good." The girls entertain themselves at St. Mary's Catholic boarding school confessing fake sins just to give themselves a thrill, ratting out lesbian nuns they watch through keyholes, envisioning the priest (who amusingly refers to cinema as a "vehicle for depravity and degradation") giving a sermon in the nude and stealing lesbian erotica to read under the blanket with a flashlight when they should be sleeping. Right before summer break, the girls steal wine, robes, a goblet and other things, which they plan on using for a Satanic blood ceremony where they will wed themselves to the Devil (and symbolically to one another).

As summer rolls around, Anne's parents go out of town for 2 months and leave her in the care of their handyman Gustave (René Berthier), who oddly seems to disappear from most of the rest of the film. The two girls begin spending every waking moment together; gleefully laughing as they do and say all kinds of horrible things. They mockingly seduce an uneducated farmer's son (Gérard Darrieu), which almost gets Lore raped, and later make jokes about his family being poor before setting their barn and hay ablaze. They make the half-wit gardener (Michel Robin) assist them in their Satanic ceremony, which also ends in Lore almost getting raped, and then they poison his beloved pet birds. To cap off their wonderful summer, they pick up an older married man (Bernard Dhéran) whose car has broken down, take him back to Anne's house, strip down to their underwear and ask him all kinds of invasive questions about his sex life. Not surprisingly, Lore is almost raped a third time until Anne beats him over the head with a piece of firewood and kills him. The girls sink the body in the lake and return to school, where paranoia begins to chip away at them and they decide to go out in a blaze of glory in front of their parents and the entire school.

Director / writer Joël Séria seems content to cherry pick from the real case here and there as it suit him. He never bothers attempting to characterize the girls nor does he attempt to understand them, their motivations or even their environment. Because the supporting characters are thinly drawn and often shown as buffoons, there's no palpable, believable sense of oppression from authority / religious figures for the girls to rebel from. They are simply sadistic and evil young women who do sadistic and evil things just because they want to. The movie really has nothing much to say outside of trying to shock and provoke Catholics with its rampant blasphemy. Not that there's a problem with that per se, but something a bit more substantive could have made this far more disturbing and compelling. The only thing I personally found difficult to watch was Anne's cruel treatment of her kitten and some birds. Supposedly, the bird scene (including a moment where Anne crushes one in her hand) were accomplished by sedating the birds, so at least they weren't harmed making this.

Putting my mild disappointment aside about what this could have been, it's still entertaining enough as a piece of Euro-trash if you keep your expectations low. To pretend like it's high art because there are subtitles and angelic voices going "la la la" on the soundtrack every once in awhile is to be kidding oneself. The acting is OK (though the characters are all extremely unlikable and unsympathetic), it's a nice looking film, a few moments are genuinely disturbing, there's some decent sick humor and the grim ending is pretty memorable and surprising.

Because of the subject matter, this was banned in several countries (including in its home country for a short time after a debut at the Cannes Film Festival) and was never made available in America until the 2006 "director's cut" DVD release from Mondo Macabro. In the UK, a theatrical release was "presented" by Antony Balch in 1971, which boasted it was "The French film banned in France!"



Owen Davis said...

Damn you rated this cult-classic WAY too low.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Watching Heavenly Creatures a few days beforehand probably didn't help matters.

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