Sister Smile (Soeur Sourire) (2009)

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Released 7-Apr-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 120:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Stijn Coninx
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Cécile De France
Sandrine Blancke
Chris Lomme
Marie Kremer
Jo Deseure
Jan Decleir
Filip Peeters
Christelle Cornil
Fabienne Loriaux
Raphaël Charlier
Philippe Résimont
Johan Leysen
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Bruno Fontaine
Julie Brenta
Philippe Ravoet


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The story of Soeur Sourire aka "Sister Smile" aka Jeannine Deckers aka The Singing Nun has been filmed a few times, always to mixed success. Most will remember the 1966 film The Singing Nun with Debbie Reynolds playing the title role. The story is an intriguing one - whilst in a Belgian convent Deckers recorded an album of religious songs, one of which, Dominique, (named after the founder of her order) became an international hit knocking The Beatles off the Number 1 spot. The song is a naive, sunlit tune complete with nun chorus, that will enchant you then attach itself to your brain with such a grip that a partial lobotomy is required to remove it. You have been warned!

Like all good music industry stories it ends unhappily, as the convent girl is seduced by the ways of the world and finds that fame can be awfully fleeting. Not that you would have got that from the Debbie Reynolds flick. That film was made when Deckers was still a member of the Order and in the flush of her success.

Sister Smile is a biopic of the Singing Nun sensation from beginning to end. It paints a realistic portrait of the personality of Deckers, though a little research suggests that the script may have taken the usual liberties with the truth in order to find a story arc and create heroes and villains.

In many ways Deckers was her own worst enemy. As played by the remarkable Cecile De France she is a strong willed woman who has a mile wide streak of impulsiveness which frequently draws her into conflict with those around her. The film is book-ended by Deckers on a Canadian tour, not long after leaving the Order, but the story proper begins in 1959. We are introduced to the tomboyish Deckers, playing soccer. She befriends Anna Pecher (Sandrine Blancke ) who has an all abiding, lifelong crush on her friend. Deckers isn't interested in the love that Anna can offer, but she isn't much inspired by boys either. She lives with her father and mother above their bread and pastry business with her cousin Marie Kramer ( from Blame It On Fidel). There is a stack of tension in the Deckers household. Her parents want to to settle down with a nice man and take over the family business. But Jeannine has no interest in such trivial pursuits. She likes art and music and frequently argues with her equally strong-willed mother. She promises her cousin that they will go to Africa together but seemingly on a whim joins a convent. The austere convent lifestyle is no match for the fiery, impulsive Jeannine and it looks as though she may give it up until a meeting with the Mother Superior results in her being allowed access to her beloved guitar, confiscated when she entered the convent walls. A film crew making a documentary about the convent captures Jeannine singing her songs and the rest is history. Faster than a speeding Birdie Song, Dominique becomes a hit, recorded in a number of languages, and Jeannine has found her vocation.

Or has she?

The third act of the film begins the long, slow decline as the smile was wiped of the Sister's face. Leaving the Order out of frustration with the perceived stifling of her success, Jeannine finds that life on the outside is not easy. Now defrocked, she is far from a marketable prospect. The Church and Philips records hold the rights to the name Sister Smile and are prepared to wield extraordinary power to stop her from doing anything that would reflect badly on the church, particularly singing a song about the wonders of the birth control pill!

The Sister Smile phenomenon can be put down to a reaction against the gritty rock'n'roll of the time. Here was a purity that seemed to transcend hype - viewers may like to see a comparison with Susan Boyle.

This is a direct and unadorned biopic. It neither has flights of fancy like the Debbie Reynolds film nor the gritty sexuality of the more recent Spanish retelling of her story. The relationship between Anne and Jeannine is portrayed as mostly platonic until Jeannine learns to "accept love". The final scene will have those who are not intimate with the end of the Jeannine Deckers story to scratch their heads; it is overly subtle.

Cecile De France is an emerging talent in Europe, after successes in Haute Tension and Le Pupees Russes (Russian Dolls). Look out for her in the next Clint Eastwood film Hereafter. Here she is amazing a Deckers, playing her with little make-up from feisty teen to 50 year old woman. True this statuesque beauty is no physical match for the real plain and dumpy Deckers but she has no fear of making her character difficult and sometimes unpleasant. The downbeat nature of the film may limit its appeal to those who like their biopics on the serious side and she is hardly a gay icon. It is possible to draw a parallel with Walk the Line but the moment of happiness which almost book-ends the film has nothing on the Folsom Prison Concert as a career redefinition for the sad Sister Smile. The best line in the film? When Deckers looks at the single of Dominique and first realises she has been dubbed Sister Smile - "Whoever came up with that name doesn't know me very well" she sagely observes.

Worth a watch.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Sister Smile is presented on DVD at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

This appears to be consistent with the cinema aspect ratio although information regarding the OAR is a little hard to find. I couldn't find any examples of odd framing, etc that might suggest a cropped transfer.

The film seeks to replicate the look of the late 50s , early to mid-60s and the 1970s. It does so by using a flat look and fairly beige colour scheme. The colours are accurate though, as you might expect, there is a lot of black, white and grey at the nunnery.

Flesh tones are accurate. There is a bit of grain about but this is in keeping with the overall look of the film.

There are subtitles in English. They are accurate. A few scenes where English is spoken have burned-in French subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Sister Smile has a decent French Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack running at 448Kb/s. Having said that the surrounds and subwoofer don't really have too much to do.

The dialogue is clear and easy to hear and comprehend (if you speak French).

There is also a 2.0 track which runs at 384 Kb/s and is pretty good too. The actors appear to be in audio sync.

The song, Dominique, naturally dominates. The fact that it becomes a bit grating is not lost on the director who appreciates that for Jeannine Deckers the song was a blessing and a curse.

There is an original soundtrack too but trust me, Dominique is the only musical refrain you will take away from the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Theatrical Trailer

The only extra is a theatrical trailer which runs for a brief 1.35.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  The film is available only on a French Region 2 DVD. The information I have suggests that it does not have any extras either. Stick with Region 4.

Summary

    Sister Smile is a well acted, always interesting biopic on the life of a musical footnote. Belgian cinema isn't commonplace and every opportunity to see films from this country (particularly the Dardenne Brothers) is a trip worth taking.

The DVD sound and vision are fine in this film and it has many rewards.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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