This is an interesting French film from 1970. Publicists repeatedly emphasise how it was banned by the supposedly worldly French upon its release but if you expect copious helpings of nudity, sex or gore, you'd be sorely dissappointed. It wasn't banned for any of those reasons. You'd expect the French to be above banning nudity and sex and you'd be right. No, it was in fact banned for blashphemy, specifically in its portrayal of the Church and of religion in general. This was at a time when the Church still had a strong (but already declining) influence in France. There is some nudity - two instances of bared breasts and a glimpse of pubic hair, but that's about all. What incensed the Church was the portrayal of its congregation as mindless sheep, of its priests having less than pure thoughts, of lascivious nuns sneaking behind locked doors to kiss each other and the idea of young convent girls performing Satanic rituals and pledging themselves to the Devil.
In the accompanying interview, writer and director, Joel Seria acknowledges that his film is inspired by the 1950s New Zealand murder case which was later immortalised in the movie "Heavenly Creatures" but his film is not actually based on it. In the New Zealand case, the romantically entwined girls plot to murder the mother who tries to separate them. Here they do nothing of the sort because their parents are oblivious and probably couldn't care less if they were attracted to each other. The girls do share a very close bond but the bond is not just sexual attraction to each other. Seria in the interview goes so far as to deny a lesbian link between the two, arguing that the film is more about one girl dominating and slowly corrupting her friend. Essentially they are bored and they feel like outsiders. They retreat into a private world of passionate and increasingly dark and macabre poetry. Seria has indulged his love for torrid French poetry by having the girls quote liberally from them. Throughout we see and hear them reading exerpts from Lautreamont and and Baudelaire. The "naughty" books they surreptitiously read are Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs du Mal" (The Flowers of Evil) and Lautreamont's "Les Chants de Maldoror" (The Songs of Maldoror - about as suitable for children as de Sade). I loved the final sequence which takes place at the school's talent-night. The two girls recite reams of poetry in ever more frenzied tempo until they seem to be in a trance, ending with Baudelaire's "Les Morts des Amants (Death of the Lovers), and the final verses of "Le Voyage" (about death and the journey to the next world), before dramatically immolating themselves in front of the initially unsuspecting, cheering and then slowly horrified audience.
Were they Satanists? Were they truly evil? No. More like bored teenagers experimenting. Amoral perhaps. The death that they cause is obviously accidental and their suicides the result of the knowledge that the police were on to them as well as their fear of being separated and sent to prison. All in all, a sad comment on empty lives and bankrupt morality.
The acting is surprisingly good. The actresses who play the girls, Jeanne Goupil and Catherine Wagener look very convincing as 14-year-olds, so much so that Joel Seria has to emphasize for the sake of American audiences that they were of legal age at the time. In fact the posters and cover-art on the DVD bear no resemblance to the girls at all. The art-work has them looking like old witches when they actually appear very young and angelic in the film. Seria also goes on record to state that none of the birds - the budgies and the canaries, were harmed in the making of the film although what is shown looks disturbingly real.
Although the film is unrated, it would probably merit an R rating at most.
Mondo Macabre has given the film a pretty good transfer considering its vintage. There are just a few instances of dirt, colors are still strong, black levels are accurately set and the picture is generally pleasing to the eye although a tad soft. It is presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen, pillarboxed into an anamorphic 16x9 frame. The original French 2.0 Stereo track is provided with optional English subtitles. Worth getting. Not something you get to see too often these days.