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Film: The Devils
Director: Ken Russell
Writer: Ken Russell
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed and Dudley Sutton
This was a film that I didn’t know a lot about and had never heard of it. From a podcast I listen to, had a best of the 1970’s horror films series of podcasts. Now this film isn’t listed as a horror film, but it definitely felt like it with the imaginary, deprativity and the implications of the events. It also states that the characters in this film were real as well. The synopsis is in 17th-century France, Father Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) seeks to protect the city of Loudun from the corrupt establishment of Cardinal Richelieu (Christopher Logue). Hysteria occurs within the city when he is accused of witchcraft by a sexually repressed nun.
We start this off seeing a presentation of the ‘Birth of Venus’. Playing the star role of Venus is Louis XIII (Graham Armitage). Watching is a large coward and among them is a Cardinal Richelieu. At the end of it, he asks Louis XIII if he can expect the country of France to be in line with the church to which he agrees.
It then shifts to Loudun. The city is not currently ruled by a governor, as the previous one passed away. It is pretty much the church which is ran by Grandier. He doesn’t really follow the doctrine as much as he should as he has relations with women and he is pretty much doing whatever he wants. He leads a procession that is going past monastery full of nuns. They are clamoring to get a glimpse of Grandier and the nun in charge, Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave) scolds them. She though does move to a window to catch a glimpse herself.
Things take a turn though when Grandier marries Madeleine (Gemma Jones) in secret. This bothers the sexually repressed Sister Jeanne. Also during this time, Cardinal Richelieu gets Louis XIII to agree that to prevent uprisings, all cities should have to lose their walls. Baron De Laubardemont (Dudley Sutton) comes to Loudun to enact this, but Grandier stops him. The edict has not arrived yet, so the townspeople side with Grandier.
Laubardemont has to find a way to get rid of Grandier and he does when he goes to Sister Jeanne’s monastery. She accuses Grandier of crimes he didn’t commit out of jealousy. Father Barre (Michael Gothard) is called in and believes that all of the nuns in the monastery are possessed by the devil and it is Grandier’s fault. He also has the help of Mignon (Murray Melvin) as they try to exorcise everyone. Hysteria and debauchery take place as they go about proving their ‘point’.
Now this was a film I didn’t know a whole lot about and I was definitely intrigued. It really sets the tone in the beginning with production of the ‘Birth of Venus’ that this film is going to look at amazing. Which is the case for this film, the set pieces used are really good.
I was really wasn’t expecting the depravity and debauchery we got in the film either. If you know me, I’ve gone back and forth with being agnostic and atheist, especially because I despise organized religion. This film is really the epitome of why. Sister Jeanne is in love with Grandier, even though they’ve never met. She even tells Madeleine that nuns are just the wealthy who couldn’t find a husband or their dowry wasn’t enough. This actually makes a lot of sense when the hysteria kicks in. They have been repressing their carnal desires and when Father Barre gives them an excuse, they go over the top with it. I have to say, this really has some interesting nunsploitation aspects to it. Seeing them running around naked and doing depraved things was interesting.
Grandier isn’t innocent though either. He is a priest, so he is supposed to be celibate and never marry. He is using his position in the church to sleep with young women he finds attractive and using it as well to maintain a lifestyle that is above what he should be. He does do some good things and performs his duties, but it is really a farce. I will give him credit that he somewhat redeems himself. He really does love his city and wants to save it, even though the citizens do not see what those in power are doing. How much of it though was to maintain his lifestyle.
This brings me to what the religions leaders are using by stating the nuns are possessed, they really just want to knock down the city walls. They are literally destroying the lives of all of these nuns and Grandier for that reason. He is somewhat of a threat to them, because of his charisma and how those that listen to him follow. This is something I see throughout history though that religion is used as the reason behind things as a means to get their end.
One last aspect of the story that I noticed, there always seems to be a crowd watching the events that are happening. I noticed it from the start at the play, then again when we see the nuns running around naked for the first time as well as during the visit of Louis XIII and the trial of Grandier. There are always a crowd of people watching. I took this as that crowd is us the audience. We are complacent with what is happening and just watching it when we could really make a difference. We don’t because of the mob mentality.
To move to the pacing of the film, this is really one of the only aspects I had any issues with. We jump right in and then things kind of just move at a pretty fast pace. I was confused as to what was going on for a stretch and it wasn’t until Father Barre showed up that it finally clicked for me. I will admit though, once I did I was on board. The things we see in this film really help to build the tension and I think we get a satisfying climax as well as conclusion. I definitely love the final sequence and its implications for everything.
Something that was pretty amazing in this film was the acting. I was highly surprised to see Redgrave and I thought she was great in her role. I haven’t seen a lot of her earlier works, so this one was interesting. Her character bothers me, but I can’t hate her. She got caught up and then used. Reed is one of my all time favorite actors. He is such a horrible guy in the beginning, but the film does an amazing arch where by the end, you see there is good there and he wants to help. Sutton was solid as the villain. He will do whatever to get his mission completed. Gothard was another great villain. He embodies something I hate about religion in forcing confessions and taking things said to him, twisting the words to prove his point. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
As to the effects in this film, there weren’t a whole lot used, but it really didn’t need them. It isn’t that type of film. We do get some blood, which looked real. That is something I can always appreciate. There are glimpses of some effects, which really made me cringe. That is a reaction I usually hope for in regards to them. I said earlier as well, the sets look amazing and it is shot great. There are even some dream sequences that look fantastic as well.
Now with that said, this film was one that I really didn’t know a lot about and ended up loving it. It claims in the beginning that all of these characters are real, which makes it all that much more impactful. I dig the corruption of religion aspect along with the nunsploitation. The depravity and the debauchery we see in the film are impactful. I do think there are some pacing issues earlier in the film, but it corrects itself and hooked me. The acting is amazing and how the film looks is as well. The soundtrack of the film really didn’t stand out, but it also didn’t hurt the film. Now this film isn’t for everyone. If this sounds good, check it out. I will warn you, it is from the early 1970’s and there’s quite a bit of nudity in it. If either of these are an issue, definitely avoid it.
My Rating: 9 out of 10