“The nun”, on Arte: rebellious novice against religious and patriarchal system

If Guillaume Nicloux achieves an unequal rereading of Diderot’s work, he offers Louise Bourgoin and Isabelle Huppert to the roles to the employment that spice up the film.

by Thomas Sotinal

The nun, from Denis Diderot (posthumously published in 1796), is rich enough to admit that the work was at the origin of two films. The one that Jacques Rivette made in 1966 (with Anna Karina in the title role) is, according to a widespread judgment, a masterpiece. It is not in this yard that we must measure the success or failure of Guillaume Nicloux who, almost half a century and some victories of women’s right and freedom of expression later, says in turn The story of Suzanne Simonin, younger girl of a wealthy merchant who forces her to take the veil in order to better endow her older sisters.

Nicloux, “great defender of provocation, in the sense of provoking emotions, debates, an exchange”, among other things, made very black films (a private affair, in 2002, this woman, in 2003, the key, in 2007) whose protagonist went through violent, sometimes degrading tests, before approaching freedom. This is how the filmmaker sees the martyrdom of Suzanne Simonin: she will not be an insignificant being crushed by a religious and patriarchal system, but a heroine fighting against adversity.


It is not a question of making the director a trial in heresy, but of seeing that this shift does not serve the film. Admittedly, the vital force that the young actress gives off the clashes with the two superior mothers who try to enslave the novice – one by the discipline, the other by the senses.

The show is spicy by the good idea of ​​having subverted the logic of the distribution of roles: Louise Bourgoin embodies the rigorous superior mother while Isabelle Huppert takes the habit of sybarite. Suzanne Simonin is interpreted by Pauline Etienne, noticed in 2009 in the Bel Age, of Laurent Perreau, and in a single one and the others will follow, from Léa Fehner.

coming after a skillful prologue, which shows how economic necessities lead her family to get rid of Suzanne – she will be successively recluse in three convents – this central episode is cut with efficiency, so that we only gradually perceive of incessant calls from foot to news. Mother Christine (Louise Bourgoin) is there to recall the harmfulness of fundamentalism, her colleague from the Saint-Eutrope convent (Isabelle Huppert) is the effigy of all adults who take advantage of their authority to abuse children and adolescents .

This desire to stage the fight against evils unanimously (or almost) denounced diverts the nun from her original career, until he leads to an end that we will not reveal, but which we must warn readers de Diderot that she will disconcert them. At best.

/Media reports cited above.