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April 27, 2010 | by  | in Arts Film | [ssba]

Sister Smile

While a film about singing nuns might call to mind Whoopi Goldberg, this film is nothing like Sister Act. An older generation may take nostalgic delight to ‘the singing nun’, who had the hit song ‘Dominique’ in 1963, but Sister Smile tells a more harrowing side to the story.

Jeanine Deckers is a talented and captivating young woman. She dreams of travelling to Africa, but cannot escape pressure from her mother, who tells her that her top priority in life is to find a husband. Jeanine wants more from life but is not sure what, confiding in a priest: “I want to be free… But also locked up.” She finds friendship with the artistic Annie, but when she finds out that Annie is actually in love with her, Jeanine bolts, afraid to defy sexual norms. By not wanting marriage, there is little other choice but to join a convent. It is here that she can suppress her sexual confusion and thwart her parents’ marital pressure.

Although the obedience is difficult at first, Jeanine fights to express herself through music. When a film crew is let into the convent, Jeanine’s singing talent is discovered. After the success of ‘Dominique’ she eventually leaves the confining order to pursue a singing career.

Outside however, Jeanine finds the rules of the world to be just as difficult. She goes on tour to Montreal where her free spirit is contested once again. After she debuts the ‘The Golden Pill’ (a song about how the pill was sent from God for women), this ‘singing nun’ is found to be too controversial and the tour is cancelled.

Jeanine then gives up music and embraces her love for Annie. Yet the two realise that they cannot live as they want in this world, and with a growing drug dependency and financial burdens, the pair decide to escape for good.

Jeanine’s character, played by Cecile de France, stands out in the film. Her vivacious persona heightens the tragedy in showing that there was no space for her in this society. Sister Smile gives a realistic portrayal of the ‘free loving 1960s’ that are so often idealised in contemporary films.

Although the film is long, the narrative is eased along without getting boarded down with too much with biographical factuality. The abrupt ending of Sister Smile may be loose on the facts; nevertheless it was extremely effective in making the tears flow.

Directed by: Stijn Coninx


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