Thursday, February 01, 2007

DON'T DELIVER US FROM EVIL (JOEL SERIA, 1971)



Anne and Lore are two barely pubescent teens who attend a Catholic Boarding school. While seeming sweet, well behaved, and innocent from all appearances, the two have actually devoted themselves to Satan. While they are at school, the two intentionally 'sin' as often as possible without getting caught. They steal clothing and religious reliquaries in order to use in future Satanic rituals, the confess sins which they haven't committed, they spy on the nuns, and they read transgressive literature under their covers once everybody else is asleep. Their life at the boarding school is a constant joke to them, and they giggle at everybody else's misfortunes and the fact they are getting away with so much sin. Once summer break comes, their activities begin to get a little more serious.

Anne's parents are leaving the town for two months, and leaving Anne, who's fourteen years old, home alone at the chateau she lives at. While a gardener and butler are there, Anne is more or less left to her own devices. They start out by tormenting an ignorant farmer, tempting him with their bodies, and then letting his cows free once he's gone out of his mind with lust. Later the two end up setting the hay around his farm on fire, reveling in the destruction they're causing. They also constantly commit acts against Anne's gardener, killing all of his pet birds, one at a time, since the gardener loves them. Among their other "sins" that they revel in, the time finally comes to dedicate their lives to Satan.

The ceremony resembles a Catholic mass, with the difference being that the girls are dedicating their lives to Satan instead of a Judeo-Christian God. They prick their fingers and put each others blood on their tongues before taking a Eucharist. They then have the gardener take them out in a boat on a nearby lake, and the girls eventually push him off the boat, eventually falling in themselves. Once all on land, the gardener, who appears to suffer from some sort of mental deficit, chases the girls around the forest as they laugh and continue to make fun of him.

One night, while riding their bikes through the woods, they encounter a man who's car has run out of gas. The next village is over five miles away, so the girls invite them back to the guests house at the chateau which they have cleaned up and decorated. Once there, the girls strip to their underwear and constantly tease the man about marriage, his potency as a lover, all the while coming onto him and showing off their legs. When Anne leaves the room to go get more wood for the fire, the man snaps and attempts to rape Lore. Coming back inside, Anne tries to wrestle the man off of Lore, but he won't budge. She picks up one of the logs of fire wood and hits him over the head. He falls off of Lore, and much to the girls dismay, dies. They wrap his body up in carpet and dump him in the river, swearing not to talk about it. Anne's parents come back the next day, and the day after that the girls go back to school.

Once back at school the girls are extremely worried about being caught, Lore especially. Anne comforts Lore, promising that they won't find the body. Shortly thereafter a police man comes and interviews the two girls, he is obviously suspicious. Anne is mentally preparing herself for their demise while still comforting Lore that everything will work out OK. Finally, during a school play, Lore and Anne, with an audience of all of the staff of the school and almost all of the student's parents, stage an amazing spectacle that takes care of almost all of their problems. The ending of the film is truly amazing, and fits perfectly with the bizarre tone of the film up to that point.

The film is very unique in the fact that, despite utterly exploitative subject matter, the method in which first-time director Seria handles the content is utterly subversive. While the girls do gladly parade their nubile bodies, and the camera ostensibly lingers on them, during any of the scenes of rape, a very disconcerting tone is taken, and it is obvious that the girls aren't very happy with practicing what they preach. While some of the film carries a sort of naive eroticism, the "sex" scenes themselves are completely divorced from eroticism, rather taking a stark position of confusion and dread.

Almost the same thing could be said about the tone of the entire film itself, which creates a bizarre sort of disconnect from the events on screen. As Anne and Lore commit their mean-spirited deeds the audience is rarely allowed a chance to pass judgment. Almost all the way through, these scenes of the girl's evil are followed immediately by brightly lit, enjoyable scenes of the girls laughing and acting like normal teen girls. This sort of ironic dichotomy perfectly sums up the idea of two early teenage girls dabbling with Satanism; despite their desire for devotion to it, they have no concept of what they're actually doing.

It'd be possible to view the film as somewhat nihilistic, as the ideology of the girls is at the surface level unrelenting, but if one examines the girls during other aspects of their life (which the film allows ample opportunities to do), it really is obvious that these girls are not half as serious as they let themselves believe to be. Any events of serious consequence are more or less an accident, or an misunderstanding of what the consequence seriously is. In fact, in a scene where Anne is by herself in her gardeners room, she picks up the last pet bird of the gardener, and crushes it in her fist. For the first time in the film Anne's maniacal stoicism fades, and she is overwhelmed with guilt (or something), running to the chapel in her chateau, sobbing to God.

It's in this approach to the film that it succeeds, for Seria has created believable teenage Satanists. They are not the hyper-unrealistic teenagers that overpopulate much of European genre cinema, performing deeds for purely exploitative purposes (aka so the audience has something to respond to on a rather shallow level), rather, they actually exist, in the film, as humans. The presence of characterization allows for the audience to get a fuller emotive response from the film, moreso than any other "naughty teen girl" flick from the same time period.

Also, a final word needs to be said in regards to the ending. While I won't give it away (part of it's power comes from the unexpected viewing of it), it needs to be said that it is utterly hypnotic and chilling, a perfect ending to a film which early on has its protagonists reading Lautremont's Les Chants de Maldoror. It is very poetic, theatrical (even without the framing of a school play it would be read that way), and utterly conclusive.

5 Comments:

Blogger Jan said...

Thanks for the post, it provided me with some interesting connections. Hope you get your website up soon.

Cheers

4:55 AM  
Blogger CINEBEATS said...

Great review Mike! I loved the film and I'd really like to see more of Seria's work, but it seems hard to find.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Flickhead said...

Thanks for this article. I haven't read it yet, never knew of the film, but I put it at the top of my rental queue. It'll be here tomorrow...I look forward to reading your piece afterward.

1:42 PM  
Blogger mike said...

To Jan:
I'm hoping to get it up sometime around June or July, so until then I'll just be working on the content here.

To Christina:
Thanks! I'd really like to see more of his films more, especially Marie-Poupee

To Flickhead:
Let me know what you think of the film after you watch it!

2:36 PM  
Blogger Rodro said...

Great review for a film I didn't know about! Thanks for the recommendation. Sounds very sleazy and trashy. My kind of fun.

I invite you to visit my blog.
Cheers!

2:48 PM  

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