Sister Smile Stijn Coninx

Sister Smile Stijn Coninx
Before watching Sister Smile, I knew absolutely nothing about Jeanine Deckers (the Singing Nun), who, I've learned, outsold the Beatles and Elvis with her ignorant, but catchy, little tune, "Dominique." And just from listening to that song and looking at the DVD cover, which features a smiling nun with an acoustic guitar surrounded by enthralled listeners, I would assume that a biopic about her would be overwhelmingly preachy and filled with antiquated moral platitudes, like a Janette Oak adaptation, Joan of Arcadia, or Avatar. Boy was I wrong. There were a number of things I didn't know about Ms. Deckers' like, for example, that she was a chain-smoking, alcoholic, lesbian feminist with a violent dislike for authority figures. I guess now it makes more sense to have her portrayed by Cecile de France, the crazed, table saw wielding dyke from High Tension and those Cedric Klapisch movies about post-undergraduate ennui. It also helps that she can pull off any age from 18 to 40 with little struggle, which helps with a film that spans several years. This one starts out with the young, idealistic, rebellious Jeanine in '60s Belgium, struggling between the practical interests of her cold and removed mother and her desire to move to Africa to help people. Eventually she decides that art school is her goal, mainly because her best gal pal Annie (Sandrine Blancke) convinces her of such. But when Annie goes for Jeanine's boobies, she's horrified and does what any good Christian does to repress homosexual desires: get married to God. That's healthy, right? From here on out, the film details Sister Smile's struggles with rigid, authoritative nuns and her increasing preoccupation with getting the message of the church out to the public through song ― something she does effectively, much to the chagrin of an exploitative clergy that wants to control her. Everything unfolds naturally, with little stylistic embellishment, allowing the story to tell itself. Resultantly, the film is surprisingly unsentimental, leaving the singing martyr to come off as a deeply flawed, but plausible and sympathetic character. If the frequent jumping ahead through time keeps narrative investment at bay, the thoughtful and strangely abrupt performances do well to keep up curiosity. No supplements are included with the DVD, however. (E1)