Friday, February 03, 2012

The Monk: Grade B


The Monk (2011)

Vincent Cassel, Déborah François, Joséphine Japy; Director Dominik Moll. (French, subtitled).

The 1796 novel, by Matthew Lewis, is a classic of gothic fiction. It has all the elements that define the genre, including dank stone medieval buildings, mistaken identity, magic, hidden passages, murky candlelight, mysterious dreams, romance, incest, class distinctions, and a subtle anti-Catholic message.

The story itself is also well-worn. A baby is left on the doorstep of a monastery. The monks take him in. He grows up to become the head monk, a pillar of harsh religious virtue, but racked by satanic obsessions, mainly sexual ones, and finally he “cracks,” giving into his growing madness and committing unspeakable sin.

Even for someone who doesn’t know the genre or the story, this is an enjoyable movie, mainly because of the astonishing acting performance of Vincent Cassel. But in addition, the whole story is told realistically, without melodrama, so the characters seem empathic and approachable. The cinematography is eye-candy, and the medieval sets and costumes are totally convincing. Although there is little dramatic tension, the movie is so well-made that it will keep you glued to the screen.

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