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A pampered young woman enters a convent and determines to save a bitter, self-hating female delinquent in Robert Bresson’s first feature, a spiritual thriller that is regarded as one of the great debut films in cinema history.
Alain Resnais and Roland Barthes both counted Bresson's first feature among their favourite films, and this recently restored print from France should cinch its reputation as "one of the most extraordinary first feature films in the history of cinema" (Jill Forbes). Adapted by Jean Giraudoux from a Diderot novel, Les Anges du péché is a thriller in both the spiritual and more traditional, suspenseful sense — as well as being a magnificent example of that little recognized sub-genre, the "nun movie." A pampered young woman (Renée Faure) enters a Dominican convent and dedicates herself to saving a bitter, self-hating delinquent with a murderous heart (Jany Holt). As with many of Bresson's subsequent characters, the nun's search for salvation through sacrifice becomes a kind of Calvary, ending in humiliation, death, and redemption. "Films have been made before about religious orders, but never one of such spiritual intensity and rigour . . . The great originality of the film lies in the fact that for once a director is really concerned with religion, and has succeeded in giving it dramatic life — even for non-believers" (Richard Roud).