Sunday, 22 February 2009

Almodovar's Dark Habits

And now, (sung by Frank Sinatra and Ray Quinn, whose CD is on sale tomorrow) for something on a lighter note. My discovery of 2006 was the films of Almodovar. A serious film maker whose films must not be taken too seriously and have to be judged against a blackcloth of a Spain ruled by the generals and the church for decades after which some juvenile lampooning of everything once sacred was only to be expected. We in the UK have less excuse for abandoning all respect for authority and common sense values. In this instance I tried to watch the films without sub titles but my ear is still tuned to Gibraltarian Spanish which makes the accent and flow of the educated Spanish that much more difficult. This is not to be interpreted as saying the Gibraltarians are uneducated because they punch well above their weight but it is the difference between BBC English and Geordie. One exists among teachers, in universities, and the countryside elite, while the rest speak the language of their community and region. I was no less successful with sitting through a play performed in Spanish by a Geordie, a Mexican, a Yank, a Nicaraguan and two Spanish actors, although the reactions of the audience and sitting at the front as part of stage did help to convey the subsistence of what was happening.

If I could visit France, Italy, Spain and Greece again and converse in the native tongues I would truly die a happier man, whereas winning the lottery, or whatever other achievements accomplished are likely to bring as many new problems and it would solve others. So I make do with sub titles and film notes. This experience has a longer prologue than usual because Almodovar is reported not to be happy with what was his first commercial venture on commission. The film Dark Habits is about a group of anarchical nuns which appeals to me having Gibraltarian parents from a parish which once supported a charismatic Sister who founded her own order nut used the women of the parish to help in her schools and community work. The new Bishops is reputed to have declared those immortal words "either she goes" understandably concerned about a one woman crusading Order. The parish suggested a compromise that she should be allowed to continue during her lifetime after which her work could be taken over by a more established Order. The Bishops was not impressed and the relevant parishioners even less. He left and she stayed.

I have no doubt that the film has been secretly viewed by nuns in most convents and enjoyed over a pint or glass of wine by priests in many a parish. Rome will hate it, if it is not already banned. You get the general idea when after a young bolero singer sees her boy friend die from a drug dose, laced with strychnine, that she has supplied i.e. the drugs, she seeks refuge in a convent where the nuns have given themselves names such as Sister Snake, Sister Sewer and go collectively under the name of the Humble Redeemers. The chief organiser of the mischief is the Mother Superior who cared for the daughter of a Noble who provided the Convent with a monthly stipend which enabled their financial independence from the challenged bosses of the Order, but when he dies his wife stops the allowance.

The solution is worked out by one of the nuns who had become an international success by writing trashy novels of the kind which sell well at airports, although rather than make use of the funds these have gone to her sister and family. She bases the writing on the experiences of the drug addicted young prostitutes who are taken into the convent and saved! Fortunately the novellas are regarded critically as sociological phenomenon and make a lot of money for her sister which could more than bailed out the financially desperate convent. Another of sisters does self abusing and humiliating tricks like putting a knitting needle through her face in a stand up contest with a fire fighter at the local market where the nuns sell some of their more legitimate wares.

The mother superior is quite a character having fallen in love with the daughter of the noble who went off to Africa and disappeared. She tries to replace this love with the bolero singer whose addiction she decides to feed in order to win her over. She also tries to blackmail the Marquesa into continuing with the stipend. It is at this point that the film becomes serious and believable as we learn that Church wants to close down the Convent in order to sell the land to a developer so that the decision of the Mother superior to become a drugs courier from Thailand is to no avail, or is it? The convent has reared and kept into maturity a Tiger which is kept on by one of the nuns who stays on, as does another where the parish priest has declared his passionate love. The head of the order takes the rest of the convent with her for a new beginning and authority appears to triumph, or does it?

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