The Monk (Le Moine)
Adapted from the Matthew Gregory Lewis’ gothic novel and starring French actor Vincent Cassel, The Monk has been highly anticipated by the press and the public for a number of reasons.
Firstly its content: no films possess quite the ability to shock and make audiences’ blood run cold quite like tales of Satanic deviancy. Secondly, French director Dominik Moll’s artistic sensibility makes for a lavishly depicted Catalonia in which to set the film; and lastly Cassel himself, a major star of French cinema.
It is the story of a monk Ambrosio (Cassel), who, abandoned as a baby and raised in a monastery, grows up to be an excellent preacher and a truly moral beacon to everyone. Yet he faces a great test when an envoy of Satan comes to the monastery in the shape of a woman disguised as a disfigured monk (Déborah François) who turns him towards pleasures of the flesh before setting his sights on the beautiful and virtuous Antonia (Joséphine Japy), a devout girl betrothed to be married.
The first half of the movie drags at times while suffering that the possible presence of Satan in religious circles has been done much more melodramatically, most notably in Ken Russell’s The Devils, leaving audiences wanting a truly shocking Satanic thriller perhaps a little disappointed.
However its restrained style does begin to pay off in the film’s second half, where Ambrosio’s descent into temptation is admirably depicted by Cassel – in a role suiting his talents rather than the bit-parts we are used to seeing him in in English-language cinema – his performance carries the film through its slower moments.
Thanks to Cassel, the film becomes an interesting piece of work; yet it never truly captures the audience as it should, with the idea of Satanic temptation so familiar that it doesn’t live up to the salacious reputation of the source material, and leaves one feeling intrigued but ultimately unsatisfied.
Watch the trailer here