DIRECTOR Dominik Moll WRITER Dominik Moll; Anne-Louise Trividic; Matthew Lewis (novel) STARS Vincent Cassel; Déborah François; Joséphine Japy CINEMA 27 April
Based upon the eponymous, scandalous 1796 novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk in filmic form will hold no such impact. An unusually restrained Vincent Cassel is a pleasure to watch, as is some rich, sumptuous cinematography, but these factors are only just sufficient for substitution of a drawn-out story that begins to run out of steam before a rushed conclusion.
The film begins very strongly; a serial rapist confessing the love of his abuse of a family member — “The others are worthless,” he says — to Cassel’s Father Ambrosio is impactive. Yet, this is misleading, hinting at confrontational storytelling, far from the more introspective approach director Dominik Moll ultimately opts for. Cassel immediately impresses however, effectively portraying the pain of the burden of such knowledge, where most depict no such struggle.
Incongruous opening behind, we learn who Father Ambrosio is. Abandoned outside a monastery as a baby, he has grown up to become the Capuchins’ most loved and respected monk. Audiences coming from afar to observe his passionate sermons, adoring young women faint before his conviction, a faith so strong that comrades feel safe from evil in his presence. Naturally, the Devil himself cannot fail to notice such godliness.
Ambrosio’s downfall is unfortunately also that of the film. Prior, Moll had created a delightfully tense atmosphere, very gentle hints at the supernatural seeing this writer on the edge of her seat. When temptation finally begins to make itself known, the resistance we expect is non-existent, from here the story snowballing to its conclusion; gone are any subtleties of plot, the film stepping firmly into thriller territory, not making a return. One cannot help but feel that some very good work is undone.