French New Wave legend Jacques Rivette’s second feature is one of the fiercest moral statements in a career marked by boundless formal experimentation and deep collaborations with acting ensembles. An adaptation of Denis Diderot’s Enlightenment novel, La Religieuse falls squarely in the latter camp, starring the already-famed Anna Karina as Suzanne, a young woman forced into an austere, cold monastery by her unforgiving parents. Quickly bonding with the Mother Superior, Suzanne nonetheless experiences a series of obstacles to her desired escape as religious orthodoxy closes in around her at every turn. Controversially banned by the culture minister on its initial completion and only shown in Cannes two years after, the film has remained incendiary in its questioning of French society for decades before being restored and inscribed in the history of cinema with the other masterpieces it should rightfully sit alongside. “The movie’s real subject is the nature of social control, the totalitarian demand for unquestioning obedience and the capricious application of power—a theme that may have inspired and was only reinforced by its arbitrary censorship.”—J. Hoberman, The New York Times.
Appears in: Essential Cinema