THE DEVILS (1977)
Article 4395 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Ken Russell
Featuring Vanessa Redgrave, Oliver Reed, Dudley Sutton
What it is: Surreal historical drama
When a strong, charismatic priest of the town of Loudun stands in the way of Cardinal Richelieu’s political ambitions, the latter uses his minions to concoct a way to destroy the priest by using the madness of a nun as proof that the priest is engaged in witchcraft.
If there is one thing that director Ken Russell is known for, it’s his penchant for excess, and from the opening scene in which the King performs in a Melies-inspired musical number that celebrates the birth of Venus to the orgiastic antics of the nuns to the grotesque nastiness of the techniques of a pair of torturers, there’s no shortness of excess in this one. However, this is one of those movies where the excess actually works; it underscores the nightmarish nature of the hypocrisies by which political machinations hide behind a religious front, not to mention the stupidity of the common people, who for the sake of of the circus-like spectacle of the witch hunt, end up sacrificing their own safety and playing into the hands of their enemies. I’m not surprised the film is controversial; its religious imagery alone would be very hard for many people to bear. I found it to be a powerful, fascinating and very sad movie, and it’s full of great performances; I often found myself surprised at discovering how certain characters ultimately behave under the circumstances into which they’ve been thrown. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Ken Russell movies up to this point, but this is perhaps the best of those I’ve seen.