Monday, 3 September 2007

Don't Deliver Us from Evil (1971)

Joël Séria’s 1971 debut feature Don't Deliver Us from Evil (Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal) was inspired by the same murder case as Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, although Séria’s film makes no attempt to follow the facts of the case at all - it's merely a point of departure for a thoroughly fascinating and disturbing little movie. Don't Deliver Us from Evil also has major autobiographical influences as well – Séria’s relationship with his own parents was extremely bad, and he had an unhappy childhood made infinitely more unhappy by being sent to a Catholic boarding school which he regarded as being no better than prison. The movie tells the story of two teenage girls at boarding school who are experiencing the usual problems – a repressive and guilt-laden atmosphere coupled with their own awakening sexuality. In the case of Anne and Lore, though, there is a complication – an excessively close emotional bond between the two girls causes them to withdraw more and more into their own private world, a world in which they can make the rules. One of the rules they make is that they should dedicate their lives to each other, and to evil. Their first attempts at evil are little more than run-of-the-mill adolescent rebellion, but they slowly and inevitably work their way up to more serious acts. They are particularly attracted by the idea of playing sexual games with men, to see how far they can push things. Inevitable they eventually push things too far, with tragic and unforeseen consequences. The movie builds to a conclusion that has lost none of its shock value in the 36 years since the film was made. Along the way Séria manages to include a truly astonishing amount of material guaranteed to enrage Catholic sensibilities.

This is a very low-budget movie, with both cast and crew including a large number of non-professionals, but it has none of the slapdash or amateurish feel that you would expect in such circumstances. It’s a very assured and visually arresting production, and the performances by the two lead actresses, Catherine Wagener and Jeanne Goupil, are superb. They succeed in making their characters both frightening and sympathetic, and both dangerous and vulnerable. Goupil had had no previous acting experiences whatsoever and the director made the bold decision to allow her absolute freedom in her interpretation of the role – a bold decision that paid off handsomely (and launched Goupil on an acting career that continues to this day). Don't Deliver Us from Evil is one of those European movies that is able to succeed as both an exploitation movie and an art film. It’s a rather obscure movie, and it’s to be hoped that the DVD release will make it much better known. It certainly deserves to be better known. Mondo Macabro have done a fantastic job with the DVD – the movie looks great and the extras include an interesting featurette on the influence of the infamous Pauline Parker/Juliet Hulme murder case on the film as well as interviews with the director and with star Jeanne Goupil (who is delightful and very entertaining). I recommend this one very highly.

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