Don’t Deliver Us from Evil – France, 1971

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Don’t Deliver Us from Evil – original title: Mais ne nous délivrez pas du mal – is a 1971 French film directed by Joël Séria. It is loosely based on the Parker–Hulme murder of 1954. The film had languished in obscurity for many years due to accusations of blasphemy but was made available to a grateful public on DVD by Mondo Macabro in 2006.

Based on the same murder case as the far less disturbing Heavenly Creatures (1994) directed by Peter Jackson (Bad TasteKing Kong, The Lovely Bones), the film deals with the initially innocent friendship between two well to-do French girls enjoying their summer away together from their convent school, which turns into a Satanic pact, friendship and devotion becoming inseparable and the difference between right and wrong extinguished.

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The two protagonists, the raven-haired Anne (Jeanne Goupil), ostensibly the leader, and the blonde Lore (Catherine Wagener) are in their teens, but look younger, hence their antics from leading on the local village idiot, Léon (Michel Robin), into attempted rape and the systematic killing of his beloved caged birds, being unreasonably wicked and disturbing.

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In fact, the actresses were both nearly twenty. Their lives are comfortably upper middle-class and their convent-life a far cry from the wicked nuns who often populate genre films. Their descent into genuine evil is actually prompted for their love for each other; the bond they share and the almost exquisite happiness of the time they spend together – the only thing they realistically have to rebel against are the church which governs their parent’s lives and their school.

Their initially slightly twee allegiances to Satan beneath the bedsheets and surreptitious spitting out of the wafer at communion give little away as to their eventual acts. Anne admits to witnessing two nuns kissing to the priest at confession, an event which seems to snap their vague remaining ties to God.

Their flirting and taunting of Léon is nothing but asserting their hold over him and his attack on Lore being all they need to justify their gradually more vicious treatment of him. The killing of his pet birds is extremely graphic, though the extra features on Mondo Macabro’s DVD assure us that the birds were simply very good at acting.

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In a ceremony exchanging blood, the girls become utterly entwined in their own worlds, their families unaware their ‘angels’ have most certainly fallen. Their self-belief reaches a peak when they accidentally kill a man who, again, is lured into an attempted seduction of Lore, and knowing that the police will surely work out who is responsible, use the annual event in their school hall to recite an intriguing poem (an amalgamation of Complainte du auvre jeune homme (Lament of the poor young man) by Jules LaForgueand La Mort des Amants (The Death of the Lovers) and Le Voyage (The Journey) by Charles Baudelaire), culminating in a truly shocking finale.

The acting is of the very highest order and is matched by equally accomplished direction from Séria, who continues to makes films, mostly for television. The score is a beautiful organ-led collection of hymn-like fugues which take on extra resonance considering the girl’s desertion from the church.

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The film as a whole is not a million miles removed from the 1978 Italian film To Be Twenty (Avere Vent’anni) directed by Fernando Di Leo but with bags of Catholic guilt thrown in. The film developed a long-held notoriety in its country of origin and became the first French-made film to be banned in France for blasphemy.

Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“This astonishing but little known film beautifully understates the Satanic theme. There’s an absence of any high-camp knowing occultism and instead we have lush photography, a haunting score, and unforgettable ending and two stunning actresses who although 19 and 20 when the film was made, are utterly convincing as 14 year-old schoolgirls.” Horror! 333 Films to Scrae You to Death, edited by James Marriott, Kim Newman

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