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Monday 08 November 2010

Review: Sister Smile (Soeur Sourire)

Posted in: Movies
By Kitten Power - 12th May 2010

Sister Smile is a love story. Yet somehow it is an utterly passionless love story.

The Stijn Coninx film depicts the life of Belgian 'Singing Nun' Jeannine Deckers, played beautifully here by Cecile De France, who shot to surprise fame from behind the walls of a convent with the 1963 hit Dominique.

It's clear from the early scenes of Sister Smile, set on the grey outskirts of Brussels in the 1950s, that the androgynous teenage Deckers is a lesbian. This is apparent from the life-halting second where she collides with a beautiful girl on a soccer field, to her first awakening glimpse of a naked woman in a life drawing class.

Deckers is afraid of marriage even to the sweetest of local boys and frustrated at her baker parents' repression of her dreams to go to art school. But it is when she and a woman fall headlong for each other – and this woman makes advances on her - that she, terrified, runs away to a convent, apparently seeking freedom from both society and herself behind its walls.

Her mother sums up her fears when she says, "You know who goes into a convent? Girls afraid of life and afraid of men. You've got a problem."

For a headstrong woman, the rules and regulations of religious life in the extreme are a whole new battle. The viewer is left wondering which is worse: being punished and repressed by a religious order, or being punished and repressed by society?

Yet when the battleaxe nuns return Deckers' beloved guitar and she begins writing music, a series of events lead to her recording a ridiculously catchy global hit and landing instant fame – without her knowledge. The convent is staked out by global media, as Dominique sells millions of copies and her success is compared to that of Elvis Presley.

It is not until she discovers her own success and ultimately leaves the convent in search of stardom that the real struggles begin for this endlessly tormented woman, who battered by the rules of religion and society, is left painstakingly repressing her own heart.

Sister Smile is a bleakly-coloured biopic, which when finally outside the convent walls, rollicks along presenting a series of extremes, before suddenly stalling. At its sudden climax Sister Smile leaves a sour taste of frustration. But perhaps this simply shows how honestly it represents the frustrating life of a talented woman, who never truly found freedom in this world.

- Kitten Power

Sister Smile (Soeur Sourire) is playing at Auckland's Academy Cinemas, Wellington's Paramount, Bay of Plenty Cinemas in Tauranga, State Cinemas in Nelson, Top-Town Cinemas in Marlborough, the Odeon Theatre in Gisborne and the Starlight Cinema in Taupo. 

Music, Drama, Biography | 2hr 4mins | Rated (PG) | contains coarse language | Origin: Belgium, France | Language: French with English subtitles

Kitten Power - 12th May 2010

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