Sister Smile: The Tragic Tale of The Singing Nun
directed by Roger Deutsch
starring Ginevra Colonna, Simona Caparrini, Antonio Salines
When nuns fall, they fall hard. Young sister Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers takes the name “Luc-Gabrielle” (Colonna) when she runs away to join a Belgian Monastery. Her guitar lessons pay off, and she records a worldwide smash hit “Dominique,” becoming the only Belgian to chart in the USA. I’d hum the song for you but it would stick in your brain for the next week and you would get diabetes. All the royalties were signed over to the monastery, and she was only known to the world as “Sister Smile.” The discipline of monasticism dictates that you have nothing, not even your name, although they did leave her the tax liability on the song’s profits. Fame lures her away and she connects with Clara (Caparrini) who runs a center for wayward girls. Perhaps Jeanne-Paule should just live there, but she merely seduces Clara away from her job, swears eternal love as she’s running out the door, and returns when she feels like it. Clara eats it up, and at least Jeanne-Paule doesn’t leave embarrassing black eyes. The only stability here is her artist father Vitale (Salines). Even he’s not much use beyond telling her how much he loves her, and asking if she could come back after he finishes porking his current girlfriend. Thanks, honey. Ultimately, there is only one resolution — she joins Clara for a bottle of wine and 26 reds.
Depressing and nihilistic, the charm of this film lies in its style. Director Deutsch goes back to the look and style of the French New Wave, shooting this 2000 biopic on obsolete film stock, giving us improbable colors and a soft focus along with digital artifacts that make this look like it was shot in 1963 and stored in the basement of a Nepalese delicatessen. There’s nudity handled in a matter-of-fact manner, casual rape, long lines of coke, and the notion that monasticism is a short-term answer to those confusing passages in life. If you don’t know what to do with yourself, you can take vows or join the Marines. Sometimes you just need a little order in your daily regime.
While the story is a downward spiral, this is a joy to the fan of 1960s cinema. The subtitles are in solid white, so you lose them against bright backgrounds, the music is bubbly and forced, and while a few anachronisms creep in, it’s possible this is a true story. The plot matches the online version of this tragic heroine’s life, but here’s a case where it might be best to rely on more carefully sourced research, or just take this film as a cinematic bon-bon.
MVD Visual: mvdb2b.com