Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (1947, UK, 101 min.). Digital.
Winner of an Oscar for best cinematography, this explosive technicolor drama follows a group of British nuns who set out to establish a convent high in the Himalayas in a castle that once housed a royal’s harem. The sisters are troubled by the grandeur of the landscape and the sensual pleasures all around them: tantalizing fruit, handsome men, beautiful women draped in jewels and bright clothing. To the horror of the Sister Superior (Deborah Kerr), one wayward sister (Kathleen Byron) begins to unravel.
Directors Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes) made a controversial decision to shoot on a soundstage in England rather than on location in the Himalayas so they could maintain complete control over the look of the film, particularly the placement of color. The scenic backgrounds were painted on glass in delicate blue. Off-white habits were chosen for the nuns, highlighting their ascetic lifestyle, and searing red was used to represent carnal pleasure.
The process of developing Black Narcissus’s visual style is detailed in a fascinating short film about cinematographer Jack Cardiff, Painting With Light. Watch it here.