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It’s the dark night of the soul in “The Monk,” and we’re not speaking figuratively here. A dark monastery and a dark cemetery, not to mention a dank dungeon and a shadow-shrouded bedchamber, are the places where dark deeds are done in this French-
language melodrama in which the title character is beset with terrible spiritual torments.

Set in 16th-
century Spain and based on an 18th-century novel that was quite notorious in its day for its treatment of sexual matters, “The Monk” is a picture packed with portents: roiling clouds, threatening statuary — falling gargoyle zone; look out below! — a mystery figure in a crimson cloak, another one in a mask.

Atmospheric and stylish, all of it. Director/co-writer Dominik Moll (Anne-Louise Trividic shares screenplay credit) certainly has an eye for the arresting image.

In the title role, a bearded, gaunt-looking Vincent Cassel is fairly restrained in his portrayal of a man steeped in righteousness and self-certainty. His monk is a charismatic preacher and sternly judgmental moralist who finds his certitude undermined by the devil’s doings.

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Moll’s measured pacing at first gives the movie the feel of a serious-minded drama. But as the incidents mount up and the sins escalate in severity — beware that seductive succubus, thou mixed-up man of God — the picture’s atmosphere of studied cool gives way to a fevered luridness. By the end,
“The Monk” has revealed itself to be a too-
predictable potboiler, served piping

Soren Andersen:

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