The Monk (La Moine) first published by movieScope
“Satan has only the power we give him.”
So says ‘model of rectitude’ Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel) in the opening scene of Dominik (Harry He’s Here To Help; Lemming) Moll’s The Monk (La Moine), when faced by his polar opposite, a licentious Debauchee (Sergi López) who has just confessed to sleeping with his own niece. Ambrosio’s words reverberate throughout the film, as this devout Capuchin monk and one-time foundling sees his own long-buried desires and hidden history resurfacing with the arrival of mysterious masked novice Valerio (Déborah François), and is gradually reduced to the same sinful level as the Debauchee himself.
Where Matthew G. Lewis’ lacerating 1796 gothic novel exposed Church hypocrisy, Moll’s film (co-adapted with Anne-Louise Trividic) casts Ambrosio more sympathetically as tragic Faustian hero, unable to escape a destiny inscribed in his very blood. For all his surrender to worldly passions, Ambrosio remains till the very end a Christ-like ‘man of God’, struggling to shoulder the burden of his own transgressive nature – and the unprecedented self-restraint in Cassel’s performance matches not only his character’s repression, but also Moll’s controlled filmmaking. For despite erotic seductions, evil abbesses, deadly centipedes, necromancy and murder, The Monk utterly eschews the typical excesses of Hammer, The Devils and nunsploitation.
A strange morality drama with its own unique mood, The Monk comes defrocked of its own shock, demanding that viewers bring their own Satan.
© Anton Bitel