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Anglo-Catholic nuns on an isolated missionary assignment in the Himalayas face an assortment of worldly challenges including sexual temptations and other intriguing ups and downs. Based on the novel by Rumer Godden.
For more about Black Narcissus and the Black Narcissus Blu-ray release, see the Black Narcissus Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on March 10, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Esmond Knight, Flora Robson
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
» See full cast & crew
Black Narcissus Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, March 10, 2012
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "Black Narcissus" (1947) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Carlotta Films. The supplemental features on the disc include an original trailer; documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the production team; video piece featuring Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji; and a gallery of stills. In English, with optional French subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's Black Narcissus (1947) tells the story of a group of nuns who settle on the top of a picturesque mountain somewhere in Northern India, looking to establish a vital Christian community. Led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity), the nuns quickly set up a small school where the locals can learn Christian values. Almost immediately, however, they are faced with a series of awkward events that test their faith and devotion.
Black Narcissus offers an unusual mix of melodrama, erotica and satire in which personalities clash, egos are tested, and desires suppressed. There is also a bit of old-fashioned romance in the film, but it is hardly as enticing as some prominent critics have insisted have insisted during the years.
Similar to Jean Renoir's The River (1951), Black Narcissus is based on a novel by Rumer Godden. Unlike The River, however, upon its release Black Narcissus was given a lot more publicity, as it was Powell and Pressburger's first film in which sound and image were treated equally (after the score was completed, the film was actually shot to playback) - an experiment that proved rather successful, and gave the two directors the confidence to shoot The Red Shoes (1948).
Black Narcissus is an incredibly misleading film. It looks pretty and feels casual, but it is deadly serious in its condemnation of British pan-imperialism. At first, the arrival of the nuns high in the Himalayas with nothing else but noble intentions to spread the words of God is depicted as an admirable act, but after their faith and devotion are tested, and weaknesses exposed, everything becomes a giant farce.
Kerr, who had previously appeared in Powell and Pressburger's Contraband (1940) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), shines in Black Narcissus, especially when she appears overwhelmed and then tormented by powerful memories of love and forbidden pleasures. Jenny Laird (The Girl of the Canal), Flora Robson (Saratoga Trunk), Jean Simmons (The Happy Ending) and Kathleen Byron (The Gambler and the Lady) are also fantastic, granting their characters terrific substance and depth.
It is David Farrar's (Cage of Gold) character, Mr. Dean, however, that transforms Black Narcissus into a very special experience. He causes great disturbance amongst the nuns, which eventually forces some of them to question their faith – and us to realize the deleterious effects of British pan-imperialism.
Shot in glorious Technicolor, Black Narcissus looks fantastic. With the assistance of production designer Alfred Junge and costume designer Hein Heckroth, legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff managed to recreate the timeless beauty of the Himalayas at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. In 1948, Cardiff and Junge were awarded Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Black Narcissus also benefits from a very good music soundtrack courtesy of composer Brian Easdale, who was also awarded an Oscar Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture , a year later, for his contribution to Powell and Pressburger's beloved The Red Shoes.
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of French distributors Carlotta Films.
The basic characteristics of the high-definition transfer Carlotta Films have used for their Blu-ray release of Black Narcissus appear to be identical to those of the high-definition transfer Criterion used for the film's U.S. Blu-ray release. Detail is excellent, clarity and contrast levels very pleasing, and image depth far better than that of the Collection Institut Lumiere 2DVD set which Warner France produced some time ago. Color reproduction is also superior, though the same light color pulsations I noticed on the Criterion release are also present here. Compression is also very good. For the record, I did not see any purely transfer related anomalies to report in this review. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 and French DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. For the record, Carlotta Films have provided optional French subtitles for the main feature.
I ran a couple of quick tests with my Criterion disc to see if there are any quality improvements, but the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track has the same dynamic amplitude the English LPCM mono track does. I also noticed the same light background hiss (during the wind howls). The dialog is crisp, stable, and easy to follow. There are no sync issues or audio dropouts to report in this review.
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Carlotta Films' presentation of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus is very easy to recommend because it uses a strong and competent high-definition transfer that rivals the one Criterion used for their U.S. Blu-ray release. Not all of the supplemental features from the Collection Institut Lumiere 2DVD set which Warner France produced some time ago have been included on the Blu-ray, but there are other just as informative extras. RECOMMENDED.
Black Narcissus: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Black Narcissus (1 bundle)
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Carlotta Films: Renoir, Kobayashi, Powell and Pressburger in 2012 - December 1, 2011
Last week, Carlotta Films announced that they will release on Blu-ray Jerry Schatzberg's Puzzle of a Downfall Child (February 22). Now the French distributors have revealed that they are also planning to release on Blu-ray Jean Renoir's The River (March 21), Michael ...
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