Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Day 68: Dark Habits

I'd like to start this one by quoting the Netflix summary of the film.  According to the summary "this film [is] about Yolanda, a singer who sells heroin on the side and goes on the lam when a deal goes awry. Now, thugs are after her, and her only sanctuary is a convent where Mother Superior is a junkie, a lesbian and also a fan of Yolanda's. Plus, another nun does LSD, a priest smokes hash, and everything is unexpected."

I've quoted this for two reasons.  The first is I find the description hilarious, like it's a description from a terrifying children's book.   The second is that, as ribald as it makes the movie sound, it's misleading.  Dark Habits is a quiet, sad film that takes the vices of its characters rather seriously, taking time to explore the truths behind these vices, as well as the consequences they bring.  On the surface, it may seem outrageous, - a nun does heroin! - but except for the religious component, it's not altogether shocking (or too remarkable, I'm afraid) underneath the gaudy, Catholic surface.

The film's got a nice pastiche of quirky characters that it treats with an admirable respect, but too often it wanders around in search of a point of view.  It ends powerfully, with a great jilted lover scene, and there are a few high-water marks like a climactic performance by its main character, Yolanda, but not unlike her character, the movie feels like it's hiding out in a convent, watching things happen, just biding its time until the heat's off.  Still, I loved the idea of a nun writing tawdry prose with an assumed name, and I was tickled at the notion of the convent's acid-taking Nun-cook having Jesus-based hallucinations while she prepares the food, and hey, I'm always game to watch a nun feed a rowdy tiger.  

The problem in the film lies in the way the Yolanda character is handled.  She makes a nice, convincing way of bringing us into this strange, cloistered world, but the movie never embraces her fully, stays away from examining her, and as a result, keeps us, the audience, at arm's length.  The film asks a question as to whether or not the world and its inhabitants have changed or are capable of changing, and comes down squarely in the middle with characters on either side.  There's nothing wrong with that, and this honesty about difficult questions is part of what makes the movie work as well as it does, but it fails to question the viewer as well as the characters, and that's, I think, what keeps it from taking off.

1 comment:

Shane said...

I was going to say that Netflix's descriptions are weird, but I've seen a lot of misleading VHS box covers in my time, so maybe I just think it's Netflix because they're my primary source of movie encapsulations now. Their description of "High Tension" struck me as wrong on several levels, and "Return of the Living Dead 3" has a final sentence that must have come from a different movie.