“Bresson’s debut feature examines the power of religious piety but saves us from another nun-demonizing diatribe."
Robert Bresson’s first feature film, ANGELS OF SIN examines the power of religious piety and sets the story withina Dominican convent where female ex-cons are rehabilitated, and makes great play of a professional cast.
Our angelic protagonist is Sister Anne-Marie (Faure), hailed from a well-to-do family, but resolves to devote herself to the noble work of reforming the sinner, and her prime object is Thérèse (Holt), a prisoner claims that she is innocent, and right upon her release, she takes her revenge to the man who should be accountable for her imprisonment and then joins the convent to dodge the punishment, much to Anne-Marie’s delight (who doesn’t twig her true purpose), who takes Thérèse under her wing.
But Anne-Marie’s beneficent intention and zealous alacrity is brushed aside by Thérèse’s penitence-free lying-low stopgap, who in turn, cunningly stokes discords between a naive and vivacious Anne-Marie and the more stolid and jealousy-inflamed ones whose telling opinions of the former are at once self-revealing and acrimonious, after a squabble about a black cat, its fallout has Anne-Marie ousted from the convent, but it takes her sacrificial final act (a bit sickly though) to finalize her lofty mission, redemption is achieved with haunting clarity in its solemn coda.
A rigid exercise in his craft of shaping up a spiritual parable, Bresson’s self-disciplined style is in its inchoate state, stunning chiaroscuro and beatific soft focus compositions notwithstanding, the story has been retouched with a sentimental glamor mostly owing toRenée Faure’s virtuous performance in the center, an effect soon Bresson would ditch roundly afterTHE LADIES OF THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE (1945), whereas a fiercely snarky Jany Holt manifests more stamina and inscrutability which is more likely consonant with Bresson’s aesthetics.
The internal power play and peer pressure inside a convent is only scuffed without patent virulence, which saves us from another nun-demonizing diatribe and grants Bresson a more sagacious eye on religion and humanity, although ANGELS OF SIN can be hardly extolled as a groundbreaking jumping-off point from a future auteur.
referential films: Bresson’s THE LADIES OF THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE (1945,7.6/10);Cristian Mungiu'sBEYOND THE HILLS (2012, 8.0/10)