Rating: * * *
Verdict: Classy but downbeat
Deft but downbeat, this drama "freely inspired" by the life and death of Jeanine Deckers, the woman the world knew as the Singing Nun is a classy piece of work thanks to a wonderfully deglamorised title-role performance by the lustrous Cecile de France.
Director Stijn Coninx and his screenwriters have abandoned a reverent and drily biographical approach, instead making Deckers a pleasingly complex and contradictory character.
As a talented and feisty teenager in Waterloo in the late 1950s, she is appalled by her desiccated mother's instruction that "finding a husband is your priority", so she defies her parents in the oddest of ways, by entering a Dominican convent. Here the Mother Superior confiscates her guitar but then accepts that it might be an instrument of genuine devotion and that the novice's songs might make a good fit with the church's.
The rest - the megahit Dominique and television fame, including an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show - is history, but this film goes further, charting the relentlessly downward arc of her next 20 years.
It's not exactly laugh-a-minute stuff but de France's performance keeps things on track.
She was never going to look as plain and purselipped as the real Deckers but she gets the body language of a teenager just right and does a fine job of depicting her emerging and confused sexuality and rebellious spirit. It's a charming performance which engages us from the get-go and makes it easier to follow her on her way down.
Cast: Cecile de France, Sandrine Blancke
Director: Stijn Coninx
Running time: 122 mins
Rating: PG (contains coarse language) In French with English subtitles