One from the archives of evil -- the dramatically titled, Don't Deliver Us From Evil -- a 1971 French picture that's so artistic, so subversive, so poignant, so perverse so...freakishly lovable that my ardor will never wane. (Track down the lovingly restored, extra-laden Uncut Special Edition from Mondo Macabro.)
Never released in the United States and "banned" for blasphemy, this potent dose of pretty poison presents a wonderfully deceiving package. The story of two teenage convent girls who "dedicate ourselves to Satan" could have been some dippy horror movie -- a T&A fest with demons and multiple slayings and loads of sex. It could have been one of those '70s horror films that make you run for the shower directly upon watching because even your soul feels soiled (which isn't always a terrible thing).
But that's not what Don't Deliver Us From Evil is attempting. Really about the obsessive nature of female friendship, of girls suffering a tedious, square world filled with hypocrisy and becoming hopped up by literature and the forbidden and hellfire and all the stuff that's so intense when you're 15, the movie is a fiendish paean to the freaky bad girl -- girls who, when staring into that bland void would rather, quite literally, burn out than fade away.
Inspired by the original Heavenly Creatures -- Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme -- two girls whose close friendship resulted in murder, Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal (if only Serge Gainsbourg would have written their theme song) studies a female bond that twists into Sapphic love, sadism and death. More subversive than Heavenly Creatures, first time director Joel Sera considers blasphemous ideas and sequences with heroines who spit out their Communion wafers like bubble-gum and glare at their Priests while giddily spying on creepy Nuns making out in locked rooms. Heavenly? What, pray tell is that?
Gorgeous raven-haired Anne (Jeanne Goupi -- who represents sullen, narcissistic, teen power in all its selfish glory) and her best friend Lore (Catherine Wagener -- the shyer of the duo), are two beautiful but curious girls marking their time at Catholic School by sneaking into bed with each other and reading erotic literature under the sheets. And as mentioned, they're especially fascinated by evil, which, isn't that strange considering their Catholic environment. But when they renounce Jesus Christ and all his works to become baby brides of Satan, they one-up the typical Catholic schoolgirl sacrilegious naughtiness.
On Summer break, the girls stick together, staying at Anne's parents home while her family is conveniently away. They ride bikes and flit around in those short cotton summer dresses every guy wishes for when the sun comes out and they laugh -- they laugh a lot. Considering that they're Satanists, the girls are a lovely pair of Beelzebub budies. Thank goodness they lived in the early 1970s. No manic panic hair, no PVC mini-skirts, no cheap fetish boots and tired, sullen expressions for these best friends. These girls are enjoying their evil. So much that they put together a crafty, dainty black mass in an abandoned chapel (you can feel fellow bad girl Martha Stewart heartily nodding her head in approval). With the dim groundskeeper serving as "Priest," they seal their Satanic deal and drive the man nuts while sitting in the rowboat in the thick of night -- he can see through their cotton Communion gear.
Which is their intention -- the girls get off on torturing men. Not in an overtly predatory, sexual way (they seem to hate men and only love each other), but with abject, albeit adorable sadism (yes, I really mean adorable sadism). But like all cheek pinching evil, these Bad Seeds push it too far. First they tease a cow herder leading to the near rape of Lore (Rhoda Penmark would never let that happen, even with the cagey maintenance man LeRoy up in her face). Next, they murder the groundskeeper's bird (a truly startling, tragic moment) and then laugh at the poor man when he weeps over one of his only companions. (In an interesting twist, they feel conflicted as well). And still next, they take in a stranded motorist, strip to their panties and...well, that guy is not about to take no for an answer. Like every good bad girl they take it five, six, lucky number seven steps over the line.
If this all sounds like a bunch of exploitative crap, it's not. Filmed with a painterly touch, the picture's lush cinematography is startingly beautiful -- from the pastoral shots in the country, to the lanterns lighting a night time boat ride to the unforgettable, disturbed final scene which, I can't discuss -- I'll just say it involves Baudelaire, and one hell of a school talent contest. The poetic impact is unforgettable.
The girls are natural and sympathetic and truly sexy and would be too good for this shit if the shit wasn't so good. And if their youth appears troubling, they are indeed of legal age. But the movie knows what it's doing -- it knows the unsettling nature of watching a girl who looks like she could use a few more years to develop getting her clothes torn off. And yet these actresses never feel like they're taken advantage of. Since this story is for them, and really, for anyone questioning faith and rules, the director seeks a deeper aim than mere titillation. And while I've discussed a lot of sexy moments, the picture never revels in sex and violence (it's almost bloodless, in fact). Instead, it's about teenagers alienated by their parents and stultifying systems of morality and the confusion of adolescence. Sometimes our body tell us to do bad things -- in this case very bad things -- and religion makes them even worse. Or better. I can't imagine how these girls would function under some good, old fashioned, twisted American Pentecostal.
I love movies that can balance perversion with ample helpings of thought and in the case of this picture, crawl under your skin just enough to make you feel guilty, complicit, even, with the character's intentions. While giving a big fat sacrilegious middle finger to the Church, the movie's general ambiance is oddly delicate -- disturbed in an intoxicating, magical way. You really fall in love with these girls. And that, quite simply and subversively, makes you feel evil.