Piazza Maggiore > 21:45


Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Introduced by Thelma Schoonmaker

To precede: Le Retour à la raison (Francia/1923) R.: Man Ray. D.: 3’
Introduced by Carter Logan and Jim Jarmusch (in video)

Due to the rain yesterday evening, to precede, a selection of 10 Lumière films, recently restored, introduced by Thierry Frémaux (Institut Lumière)

Piano accompaniment by Daniele Furlati


Screening promoted by Ottica Garagnani

(In case of rain, the screening will take place at Arlecchino Cinema)


Wednesday 28/06/2023


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Probably the most famous anecdote from the making of Black Narcissus is that when the crew first assembled and asked where in India they would film, Powell answered “Horsham”, relishing the impact of this on everyone yearning for postwar travel abroad. Yet with this brand-new print from the BFI, the fact that this Technicolor masterpiece was entirely shot by Jack Cardiff at Pinewood Studio, with location work at a subtropical garden in Sussex, becomes harder to believe. Thanks to Alfred Junge’s art department, with the matte-painting of Percy Day and his team, the imagined Himalayan convent of Mopu becomes a convincing Orientalist dream. Deservedly, both Jack Cardiff and Junge won Oscars.
Powell felt that Rumer Godden’s coolly written 1939 novel could be “wildly exotic and erotic on the screen”. And unsurprisingly, Godden much preferred Renoir’s treatment of her other Indian tale The River, believing Powell and Pressburger had unduly emphasised the story’s eroticism. But when a group of Anglican nuns are lodged amid the suggestive décor of a former ruler’s “house of women”, with the sceptical male presence of their benefactor’s agent David Farrar, and an alluring young Indian woman to protect, the scene is set for an extraordinarily charged melodrama of thwarted desires.
Attention has inevitably focused on Kathleen Byron’s breakout performance as Sister Ruth, driven to madness by her passion for Farrar, but Deborah Kerr’s Sister Clodagh, wrestling with her own conflicted desires, is no less impressive. Knowing as we do that Indian independence from Britain was already under way in the year of the film’s release, it’s hard not to read it as predicting the imperial project’s failure. For Powell, the orchestration of sound and colour in the climactic sequence was his boldest experiment in “composed cinema”. And it’s intriguing to reflect that Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, its second part still banned at this time, had also ventured into similar territory for its climax.

Ian Christie

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1939) di Rumer Godden. Scen.: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger. F.: Jack Cardiff. M.: Reginald Mills. Scgf.: Alfred Junge. Mus.: Brian Easdale. Int.: Deborah Kerr (suor Clodagh), Kathleen Byron (suor Ruth), Sabu (Dilip Rai, il giovane generale), David Farrar (Mr. Dean), Flora Robson (suor Philippa), Esmond Knight (Toda Rai, il vecchio generale), Jean Simmons (Kanchi), Jenny Laird (suor Blanche [Honey]), Judith Furse (suor Briony), May Hallatt (Angu Ayah). Prod.: The Archers / Rank. 35mm. D.: 101’. Col.