Directed by Dominik Moll
Dominik Moll’s Le Moine (The Monk) packs a punch as it slowly – and I mean slowly – chronicles the downfall of a 16th century Capuchin monk named Ambrosio, played by Vincent Cassel, whose skill and religious devotion, often to the detriment of others, is called into question with the arrival of a mysterious novice who seeks to become a member of his order.
It’s difficult to say much about The Monk’s plot, as Moll’s gothic thriller, based on the late 18th century novel of the same name by Matthew Lewis, relies heavily on unexpected twists and the requisite slow burn to showcase Ambrosio’s descent into wickedness, brought about the arrival of a stranger named Valerio, played by Déborah François. Wearing a mask to hide horrific burns, her subtle obsession with Ambrosio is more than simple adoration for a fellow ascetic and his faith in God. On the other end is a story of love between a nobleman named Lorenzo and Antonia, a woman of tremendous religious faith awestruck with Ambrosio’s religious devotion.
These two stories eventually intersect, with all the pieces falling into place in a suitably vague manner, but Moll’s slow build up and tedious pacing don’t allow it to pack the emotional punch it should have. Ambrosio’s downfall is less a progression than it is a sudden realization, one that occurs all too abruptly and late in the film to reconcile the exceedingly slow first two acts. This is due primarily to Moll heavily favoring this drama over the suspense, causing an uneven tone to the film that never manages to fully coalesce into something cohesive; it’s two-thirds dramatic, one-third thriller, and although elements of the latter peak through, they don’t do so with enough determination to offset the slow pace. The biggest victim in this is Ambrosio, whose dramatic shift sees him taking on almost villain-like qualities in a way that seems fairly undeserved, at least when viewed within the context of his character’s development throughout the film.
Visually, the Spanish monastery setting, combined with the frequent use of an iris in / iris out technique to transition from scene to scene, recalls the aesthetic of silent thrillers, one that certainly helps inform the film’s decidedly sinister tone. Vincent Cassel turns in a stunning performance as the gaunt ascetic, who brings a stunning solemnity to a role that is unfortunately heavily diminished by his brusque turn from devotee of the faith to easily corrupted. The rest of the cast is admirable, but it’s Cassel that helps to keep the slow bits from becoming so slow that you get interminably bored, while Moll’s tight direction and unique vision makes The Monk an interesting, albeit laborious and uneven, journey through faith and temptation.
3 out of 5