Restored and digitized with the support of the Technical means This film was restored by in conjunction with La Cinémathèque française backed by the Franco-American cultural fund Loosely based on a controversial book by Diderot with the same title, this film is a work of imagination.
It does not claim to paint a true picture of religious institutions, even in the 18th century.
The audience will themselves place it in that double fictional and historical perspective and refuse any hasty, unfair and of course indefensible generalisations.
Denis Diderot was 47 years old.
The editor of the Encyclopédie wrote La Religieuse in just a few weeks.
In the 18th century, convent life often retained only the outer signs of a truly religious life.
In exchange for a boarding fee, many bourgeois and aristocrats shut their girls up in convents until they wed.
Widows and single women would often retire there.
Abbeys were bought as notarial practices are today.
They call that a "living".
Superiors were mostly chosen for their noble birth.
Very young abbesses
20, or even younger - were sometimes in charge of large households.
In many convents, receptions and shows were frequent.
Rules were loosened or lost meaning through contact with that worldly life.
Diderot took inspiration from real characters for his novel:
Louise Adelaide of Orleans, daughter of Philippe the Regent, who acquired the title of Abbess of Chelles in 1719, served as a model for the Mother Superior of Saint Eutrope.
As for Suzanne Simonin, the nun, she is the image of Marguerite Delamarre sent to a convent at the age of three to increase her father's fortune.
Having appealed against her forced orders in 1752, she lost her case and remained cloistered until her death in the Abbey of Longchamp which is in Diderot's story.
And surely La Religieuse is like the comment on these words by Bossuet:
"Do not enter rashly into such a high calling.
"And if you don't feel extreme disgust with the world, "sister, leave that enclosure."
Setting the girl up would cost money: that is reason enough to devote her to religion.
She shows no sign of a calling: the opportunities given by the situation and necessity will have to suffice.
We lead the victim to the Temple; we present her to the Priest and she becomes a sacrifice which, far from glorifying God and pleasing Him, becomes execrable in His eyes and excites his vengeance...
Georges de Beauregard introduces Denis Diderot's La Religieuse
Marie-Suzanne Simonin, do you promise to speak the truth?
Are you here of your own free will?
Marie-Suzanne Simonin, do you promise poverty, chastity and obedience to God?
Marie-Suzanne Simonin, do you promise God poverty, chastity and obedience?
No, Monsieur, no.
My child, listen to me.
My Lord, you ask me if I promise God chastity, poverty and obedience.
I heard you. My answer is no.
Ladies and gentlemen, and especially you, my parents, you are my witnesses.
I am here under duress.
I pretended to go along with my parents' will, in order to protest publicly against the violence done to me.
I have no vocation. I do not wish to obey my parents.
Dear parents, do whatever you will with me, anything... except a nun!
I don't want to be one and I won't!
I am still your child.
Let go, Suzanne.
You weep but you behave ungratefully.
You know what we have lost.
Your sisters are in trouble; marrying them off ruined us.
Your father is a good lawyer, but not a banker.
We cannot give you a decent dowry.
You took the veil; you entering the convent was more expense.
Everyone heard about your profession of faith.
Your public refusal caused a scandal.
Nothing to say?
What will you do with me?
Father, you have been our confessor for 20 years.
Please talk to her.
I have never taken people into religion.
Only you can convince her.
God calls us to this state; it is dangerous to add our voices to His.
Have you found the judgement?
I am looking.
For three months, Suzanne has been shut in her room.
She knows there is no hope.
I'll be done with this.
Will I see my mother today?
Can I ask to speak to my father?
May I at least write to them?
You know you cannot.
What day is it?
Second Monday of the month.
Let's be frank.
I gave everything for this one.
I do not see what I can do now for the other.
She must reflect.
What can I do with that girl?
She cannot work with her hands.
What freedom would she have in the world?
Even less than in religion.
You know what happens today to unmarried and penniless girls.
A hospice. Or prison, or an asylum.
I am only asking you to see her, you know.
I shall speak to her.
Come here, my child.
Do not be afraid to open your heart.
I have nothing to say.
I took orders late in life.
I might understand you.
My mother hates me.
My child, pity your mother more than you blame her.
She is a good soul.
It is against her... Who is forcing her?
She brought me into the world.
Why am I different from my sisters?
You are. What do you mean?
Come on. Try to be patient about your fate.
Let us be silent for a moment.
No. No, Father. I cannot pray any more.
I have tried and tried, but... My child.
I was prettier than my sisters.
It distressed my parents.
I was nearly 15.
A young man was courting my sister.
I realised he liked me.
I warned my mother.
Four days later, I was sent to the convent.
I stayed there for two years, until my profession of faith.
They say my mother and father are decent people.
People like them, respect them.
So why, for me...?
Daughter, I see there are things you need to be told.
For a long time, I urged your mother to tell you the secret; she never resolved to.
You know how she is.
She believed she could convince you anyway; she was wrong.
She asked me to tell you that you are not Mr Simonin's daughter.
I thought not.
Given that, Miss, how can you have the same place as children who are not your sisters?
If she can confess to your father...
Who is my father?
That, I have not been told.
Your sisters have been greatly favoured.
Everything was done to reduce your fortune to nothing.
If you lose your parents, you will no longer be much.
You reject the convent.
Maybe you will regret not being there.
I ask for nothing.
I have said what I had to say.
Now it is up to you to think it over and decide.
One more question.
Do my sisters know this? No, they do not.
And they took everything from their sister?
That is who they think I am.
I do not advise you to count on them.
They have children, that will be an honest pretext to reduce you to begging.
And the bread you are given is hard.
If you will hear me, make your peace with your parents.
Do what your mother expects of you and enter into religion.
You will have a small allowance.
Your days will be, if not happy, at least bearable.
Go along, my child. You are sensible and good.
Think carefully about it.
Your mother will speak to you.
Your father is away; say what you have to.
You saw Father Seraphin.
You now know who you are and what you can expect of me.
What is your decision?
Mother, I know I have nothing and can claim nothing.
I know who I am.
But you are my mother. I beg you, do not forget that.
I wish I could.
Do not poison my life any further.
My passion has burnt out.
Conscience has reasserted itself.
But the man I owe my life to...?
He is dead, without remembering you.
The grief he caused me could have killed you - and me.
God did not want that.
Daughter, you have nothing. You never will.
What little I can do is stolen from your sisters.
I sold my jewellery. I liked to gamble; I stopped.
I liked shows and I went without.
I liked luxury and gave it up.
If you become a nun as I wish, and Mr Simonin too, I will have earned your dowry by saving.
But Mother, a few people still come here...
Maybe someone could be content with me.
You must forget that. The scandal has ruined you.
But if I do not find a husband, must I shut myself up in a convent?
Must my remorse never end?
You are my daughter in spite of me.
Your sisters will be at my deathbed; must I see you with them?
When I appear before God, let me say I have tried to atone for my misdeed and you will not upset this house by claiming... Mother!
What do you want me to take when I die?
I would have to tell your father... Tell him what?
You are not his daughter?
If throwing myself at your feet would help...
But you have no feelings.
You have your father's unyielding soul!
We do not wish to see her.
God, light my way.
Give me Your strength.
Your mother has promised not to see you but you can write to her. Here.
Mother, please forgive me.
Order me what you will.
If you wish me to enter into religion, I would like that to be God's will too.
Suzanne, do you recognise this note?
Did you write it freely? Yes.
Is your mind made up?
Do you prefer a particular convent?
No. I make no difference between them.
That will do.
I confess I have qualms about taking a lady without a clear vocation.
I believe I am not the first to say so to you.
That is true, Mother.
But please believe it was bad temper and Suzanne has since repented.
What does our mistress of novices think?
A scandal is a scandal.
We could not tolerate such a thing here.
It will not happen again.
And her talents, in such a renowned house as yours, might excuse some childishness.
She is a good musician and has a pretty voice; and the dowry your community would receive...
As for that, Sister Saint-Jean...
A thousand crowns... ...has given her opinion.
Sister Sainte-Christine, may I reply?
Scandal does not frighten me.
Our role here below is maybe to take on rebellious spirits and teach them to accept the laws imposed upon us.
The child is a difficult soul, and those are the ones we must take the best care of.
I accept your daughter here.
Mother... Please say no more.
I advise you to tell your daughter to write to our dear Mother and thank her for graciously accepting her in our house.
Here is your new daughter.
You have been postulant and novice; you know our convents' rules.
Ours are much the same, but we apply them strictly.
I will teach you; you will soon know them and not forget.
But you know music?
Your mother told us you sing.
We have a harpsichord.
If you wish, we can go to the parlour.
Come along, make up your mind.
What must I sing?
Whatever comes to mind.
Sad preparations Pale torches Day more frightful than the night Lugubrious stars of tombs Lugubrious stars of tombs No, I shall not see anything But your funereal lights No, no Perfect!
Suzanne, you sing wonderfully.
Madame, my compliments.
Adieu, daughter. Do not cause me any more suffering.
How are you, my child? Mother, I am resigned.
Do you feel nothing more?
To tell you the truth, nothing, Mother.
Suzanne, I know your story. I pity you.
I can understand your torments.
I share your fears about your vocation.
I feel it even more cruelly than you.
But let me try to give you courage.
You love God, do you not? With all my soul.
The rest will come as well, without you even realising.
Our God is hidden.
He comes to us like a thief without announcing His presence.
What if I am not made to be a nun?
Is not every state thorny?
We only feel our own.
Let grace do its work.
Give up your thoughts.
Even the simplest and most natural.
Blind yourself; deprive yourself of will and let nature die in you.
Accept only seeing God when He wishes to show Himself.
Come, my child.
Let us kneel and pray.
Our Father Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day... ...our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
But deliver us from evil.
Revive your trust, oh my soul You are in the presence of God, Christ your spouse, Jesus...
He who became man for your love and died on the Cross to save you.
And now he remains here to listen to you, grant you His grace...
Speak to Him.
Tell Him that...
I do not know what is happening.
It seems that when you come God goes away and His spirit is silent.
I am an ordinary, narrow-minded woman.
I fear to speak.
Dear Mother, maybe it is a sign.
Maybe God strikes you dumb.
Mother, the community approves our postulant's profession.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...
He makes me down to lie in pastures green.
He leadeth me the quiet waters by.
Suzanne, what is it?
Have you seen our Mother?
I think she is tired, and in the garden.
What is it? Mother, help me.
I would like help too.
You know, Mother.
And you are undecided, more helpless than ever?
I do not know if I will have the strength to take my vow.
I shall not tell you of the world's dangers as is usual at such times.
You know I love you dearly.
They say a favourite; I cannot deny it.
You have always done your duty like a good nun; why fear the future?
Not with you, Mother.
But I do not want to leave.
My child, your work, your sorrows, your life: all that belongs to God.
He only exists and loves us, and guides us: we are in His hand.
Suzanne, God's hand is upon you.
It keeps you.
It leads you in spite of yourself to your holy spouse.
To joy with no end.
Dear child, what have you done to me?
May God speak to you Himself, since He will not with my mouth.
The truth is, I am tired.
I asked God not to see this day but that is not His will.
For the second time, you will be asked to promise Him chastity, poverty and obedience.
I shall speak to your mother and spend the night in prayer.
But lie down: that is an order.
Allow me to pray with you.
You may from 9 till 11, no more.
Then you will leave me to pray alone, and rest.
Go and sleep, Suzanne: that is my will.
Ave Maria. - Deo gratias.
Have pity on me, my Lord, have pity on me.
My heart yearns only for You.
This is my appeal to the almighty.
God that filled me with love.
He sent from Heaven His mercy and His Truth.
He saved me from misery and despair.
God, if You left me in order to punish me, so be it.
I do not ask You to restore the gift you took away but please help that sleeping child.
Talk to her; talk to her parents.
And forgive me.
Did you go to bed early?
When you ordered me to.
Have you slept? Deeply.
I thought you would.
How do you feel?
And you, dear Mother?
I have seen no one take their vows with no fear, but for none have I felt so troubled.
I would like you to be happy.
If you let me keep your friendship, I will be.
If that was all...
Did you have no thoughts in the night? No.
Did you not have any dreams? None.
What is happening in your soul?
I obey my fate.
I am letting myself go.
I have no strength even to weep.
They want it, I have to, is all I can think.
You are not speaking.
I came here not for that but to see you.
I must be silent; I know myself.
Rest a little more, so I may see you.
Then I will go; God will do the rest.
What time is it?
They will come to dress you. Being here will distract me.
I must only have one thing in mind.
Raise your arm.
Raise your arm.
Turn your head.
Turn your head.
Ave Maria. Deo gratias.
Sister Saint-Suzanne, you have choir. Yes.
You are singing in the service.
Singing? You must prepare.
Is it true that I made my profession? Yesterday. You are our sister.
Mother, it is true, then?
What do you mean?
Will you believe me, Mother, if I tell you that...
I remember nothing about yesterday.
I do not remember what I did nor what I said.
You did and said what was right. Do you believe me?
I neither believe nor do not.
You are Sister Saint-Suzanne; that is enough.
How did she die?
After going to visit your older sister.
Her health had weakened.
She was sorrowing.
Did she say anything to you?
She asked me to give you this.
Did you ever know my father's name? No.
Do you like your life now?
Autumn is already ending.
My child, this is just a small thing.
Here is the rest of my savings.
Pray for me.
Your birth was the only error I made.
Help me to atone for it.
Consider that my fate in the other world depends on your behaviour in this one.
Ask nothing of your sisters; have no hope of your father who went before me.
Adieu once more.
Burn the letter; fear changing your state: the idea of you in the world with no support further upsets my last moments.
My children, why do you weep?
Come close so I may kiss you all.
You will visit the four cells on this list.
Some have destroyed their hair shirts;
I suspect some have kept their Bibles.
You take them and give me them.
What do you want, Sister? To visit your cell.
Was it an order?
Our Mother asked me.
Where is your hair shirt? I burned it.
And your discipline?
I threw it away and urged my sisters to do so too.
Who allowed it?
Mme de Moni said those penances did not correct any lapses and only gave pride.
Mme de Moni is gone.
I can at least mourn her and try to follow her teachings.
Is that what stops you singing tomorrow?
Tomorrow is not a feast day and I am not in the choir.
I wish no longer to do anything outside the rules.
Do you know them?
It is our constitution.
I have re-read it; I know it by heart.
These are the commitments I made, and no others.
One of you has sinned seriously against holy obedience.
I am obliged to punish her severely.
For a week, you will spend the service on your knees.
You will also live on bread and water; remain shut up in your cell; only come out to help the lay sisters with the basest tasks.
Lastly, I forbid you from now on to go near any of your sisters and to speak to them.
Sister Suzanne, tell us what you think of Jansenism.
I think nothing of it, since I do not know it.
I know nothing of it either and do not want to hear anything about it.
Are you subject to the constitution?
In church, yes. Do you accept the bull?
I accept the Gospel.
And yet you must take sides.
Answer frankly and do not fear.
I reject all sides and hold to the title of Christian.
You may go.
What is happening?
You must know prayers were earlier.
How could I, in my cell?
You should have known and will be punished.
And for the rest of her body, it was so laden with pearls and precious stones that they went all the way under her shoes.
Step towards me.
Run and hold me back.
You will come too late.
Mother, I need paper and ink to prepare my confession.
Might I have more? I have a lot to write.
You know I do, Mother.
Thank you, Mother.
Sister Suzanne, follow me.
Here is your cell. Sister Jerome will have yours.
Sister Suzanne, undress and take this.
You have faults, but you are not a liar.
Tell me the truth.
What did you do with the paper I gave you?
I told you.
It is impossible.
You asked for a lot and your confession seemed short.
It is true.
So what did you do with it?
What I told you.
Swear by the holy obedience you have vowed to God that it is true.
I will believe you anyway.
You cannot demand an oath for something so slight.
I am not permitted to make it.
You are mistaken, Sister.
You do not know what you risk.
What did you do with the paper?
I told you.
Where is it? I do not have it.
When did you do it?
Swear that it was all used to write your confession.
Since the thing is of no more importance, I cannot swear.
I will not swear.
You will not? No, I will not.
So you are guilty! Of what?
Everything! There is nothing you cannot do.
On purpose you praised Mme de Moni to put me down.
And scorn the rules I had to lay back down.
You stir up the community, neglect your duties...
You made me punish you and those you seduced. The hardest thing for me.
I made allowances.
I thought you would recognise your faults and come back to me.
You did not.
Something in your spirit is unwell.
You have projects.
The interest of this house demands I know them.
I will know them!
Tell me the truth. I did.
I will give you another five seconds to decide.
The papers, if they exist? I no longer have them.
The oath that they held only your confession?
I cannot take it.
Give us the paper or say what was on it.
You are too good.
You don't know her. Too bad.
I have done nothing to offend either God or men.
I take my oath.
That is not the oath I want.
She wrote to the archbishop against you.
Sister Suzanne, you see? I have seen everything.
I can feel I am getting lost, but a bit sooner or later...
Do what you please with me.
Allow me to kiss her one more time.
Ring the bell, and let nobody appear.
Obey and you will leave here.
I've done nothing, I don't know what you want!
Sister, there is a God!
Our dear Mother is too good.
Only the third day, she forgives.
It is too late.
Leave me be. Leave me be!
I consulted God about your fate.
He touched my heart and I obey.
Kneel and ask Him forgiveness.
My Lord, I ask your forgiveness for the misdeeds I have done as you did on the Cross for me.
She compares herself to Jesus!
That is not all.
Swear you will never talk about what happened.
No one will ever know.
We may never have another opportunity to talk.
God will forgive us.
I have not read your memoir but I can guess.
You know many people.
I know nobody.
I don't wish to compromise you.
My friend, you would be lost, I know.
What do you want?
The memoir to be passed to a lawyer and him to give a reply.
You want to leave?
With the reply, you will need to see people of law.
You will need freedom. That is true.
Have you foreseen your persecution?
The law will protect me;
I will need to be shown.
My mouth will be open and I will be free to complain.
If you fail?
I will ask for another house.
Or I will die in this one.
You suffer a long time before dying.
Whatever I'm made to do, no one can say I'm led by a guilty passion.
I see no one.
I am asking to be free because I did not sacrifice my freedom willingly.
Rest assured, I will think of you.
I know you are my friend.
Ask God to guide you. I will pray with you.
Holy Week followed, and our darkness was much sollicited.
I sang well enough to raise that loud, scandalous applause that your actors are given in their theatres, which should never be heard in the Lord's temples, especially when His son's memory is being celebrated.
My dear child.
Allow me, Sister.
Mother, would you be so good as to give me back...
Sister Suzanne, a Mr Manouri is in the visitors' room.
He is your lawyer.
We have permission from Rome.
Your superior will shortly be told in the name of Sister Marie-Suzanne Simonin of a protest against her vows with a request to leave religious life and leave the cloister to live her life as she sees fit.
But, in order to succeed in this business I will need to be able to see you.
We will need a means to correspond.
I will think about it. Another thing.
When the procedure begins, you will remain here, given up to others' cruelty.
I have thought about that.
It will not be worse than it has been already.
There will be several sorts of opposition.
That of the law; that of the Longchamp house; that of your sisters.
They received the family goods.
Once free, you could claim your rights to that fortune.
I can offer to give up my rights.
That act of withdrawal made while you are still here will be invalid when you are free.
And indeed, could they decently accept it?
Leave a sister with no refuge and no fortune?
What would the world say?
And what if she marries on a whim? What if she has children?
They will fight that danger with all their strength.
Do not be discouraged.
I will help you as much as it is in my power to do so.
What, Sister, you want to leave us?
Yes. Will you appeal against your vows?
Were they not made freely? No.
Who forced you? Everything.
Your father? My father.
Your mother? Also.
Why did you not complain when you made them?
I was elsewhere...
I do not even remember being there.
How can you speak thus? I am telling the truth.
Do you think you will be believed?
Whether they believe me or not, the facts remain true.
Take a few steps with me, Suzanne.
As you wish, Mother.
If such pretexts were listened to, think how it would be abused.
You remember the punishments you made me give you.
Perjury is the greatest crime.
But I have sworn nothing.
Have our wrongs not been righted?
That is not why.
The absence of a calling and vows not taken freely.
Why not have said so in time?
I was brave the first time; the second, I was unconscious.
And it is true, and you know it, Mother.
If I ask you to bear witness, will you swear I was in my right mind?
Then you will commit perjury, not me.
You will create unnecessary noise.
There will be scandalous discussions.
It will not be my fault. The world is unkind.
They will think the worst of your mind, heart and morals They can believe what they like!
My heart is pure. Unbelievable.
Why is it?
I have my character, like everyone else.
You like convent life; I hate it.
God has given you favours;
I have none.
You would be lost in the world; your salvation is here.
I will be lost here and I hope to be saved in the world.
My friendship with Mme de Moni misled me but I am sick of being a hypocrite.
My body is here but my heart is not.
I am and always will be a bad nun!
You have no remorse leaving the veil, the clothes that bind you to Jesus?
No, because I did not put them on through my own free will.
I would like to tear them and throw them far away.
What will our sisters say?
So you want to be lost.
I want to leave!
If you dislike the convent -
I dislike the convent, my condition, religion!
I do not want to be shut up, here or anywhere.
Child, you are possessed by the Devil.
Look what a state you are in.
No, I do not want to wear this anymore!
No! No more, no more!
I am neither mad nor possessed.
I am ashamed of my violence and I beg forgiveness.
But judge for yourself:
I can no longer lie.
I do what saves others, and hate and discredit myself.
Do you want to avoid scandal?
There is a way.
I am not asking you to open the doors,
just have them badly guarded.
You are mad! Listen to me.
If my freedom is refused me, my despair will be such...
I will kill myself. I will kill myself. I'll kill myself!
Sister Saint-Suzanne, go to church and ask God to touch you and make you aware of your state.
Question your conscience.
You are excused from choir.
Sisters, I ask you to beg God's mercy for a nun who has abandoned Him and is about to commit a sacrilegious act in His eyes and shameful in others'.
Sister Suzanne until further notice, you will be deprived of all work.
You will not be served.
You will kneel for services.
No one may speak to you, assist you, come near you or even touch things you have used.
Come and lie in the middle.
For the salvation of this poor soul, recite the litany of the saints and then the prayers for the dying.
Do not come in. Go away.
What do you want? I am hungry.
You are not fit to live.
Walk on her, she is just a corpse.
What do you want?
Neither God nor men have sentenced me to death.
Order me to be allowed to live.
Are you worthy?
Only God knows that.
I am just waiting for my fate to be decided.
Go; I will see to it.
Your superior tried to stop me seeing you.
We did not see you any more at services.
They shut me up.
Stop me from going.
Deprive me of food.
My sisters throw filth at me.
At night, they sow broken glass under my feet.
My rosary was taken away.
They say I am possessed.
They want to exorcise me.
Speak louder, daughter, I cannot hear you.
And you, Sir, do not believe her lies whatever you do.
They are real lies.
They cannot forbid you see me.
For that I can have them obey the law. I hope.
I cannot spare you those penalties.
You must be patient.
I'm sorry, time is up.
What does she say? She is possessed.
Sister Suzanne, do not hurt me!
What did you do? What did you want to do to her?
God, my God, listen to me.
Come and help me.
There is no more God for you. Die and be damned!
Amen. Amen for her.
Amen for her. Amen, amen, amen...
Let us avoid ceremony.
A protest has been made in the name of Marie-Suzanne Simonin against her vows.
We have debated three times and summoned to this hearing the sister's family, on the one hand, and on the other, the Longchamp community.
I pray each of you to be brief.
Gentlemen, here are two notes, both written by Suzanne.
One to her mother, saying she intends to take the veil; the other to Mme de Moni, thanking her for taking her.
We are filing an exorcism case against Sister Simonin.
We debated amongst ourselves and it was a majority conclusion.
Sister Suzanne has renounced her baptism and bad ideas take her away from divine services.
Those are our accusations.
She does not carry a rosary; she tramples on Christ; she blasphemes...
Three days ago she raised her hand to a young novice.
Judge for yourselves.
I will follow the court.
I am tired of endless dealing with convents and not keen to get involved; we know we have little authority there.
But the facts are serious and there is also the complaint by Mr Manouri, passed on by the magistrates.
It is not very important but we must act.
Let us go to Longchamp and see Sister Simonin to decide about exorcising her.
Kneel and recommend your soul to God.
Before I obey you, what have you decided for me?
What must I ask God?
What favour must I ask Him?
Forgiveness for all your life's sins.
Speak as though you were before him.
Stand her up.
Sadly, she will not recommend herself to God...
You know what to do.
Permit me to kiss that crucifix.
I order you to walk.
My God, have pity on me!
God, forgive me if I have offended You!
God, have pity on me!
Sister Suzanne, stand up.
Untie her. She may be dangerous.
Take off her veil.
Suzanne, do you believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
I do. And in our holy mother, the Church?
Do you renounce Satan and...
What is it?
Someone hurt me.
Silence, you wretch!
Do you renounce Satan and his works? I do. I do renounce him.
I order you to worship our Lord out loud.
My Lord, my Saviour, you who died on the Cross for my sins, I worship you.
Let a drop of your blood fall on me and I will be purified.
Forgive me, Lord, as I forgive all my enemies.
Sister Suzanne, stand up.
Here is the case against you. Answer without fear. Let us see...
Why do you not confess?
They prevent me. Why not go near the sacraments?
They prevent me. Why not go to Mass and services?
You know very well... Silence!
Why do you leave your cell at night?
I have no water or basic necessities.
Why not? I do not know.
Why does your cell not lock?
Because I broke the lock. Why?
To go to the Ascension Day service.
Did you enter the church?
Yes. That is not true!
The whole community... ...will swear the door was closed.
They found me at that door and you ordered them to walk on me!
Madame, you may speak when I question you.
And your rosary and crucifix? They took them.
And your breviary? They took it.
How do you pray? With my heart and mind, though I was forbidden to pray. Who forbade you?
The Reverend Mother.
Is it true or false that you forbade her to pray?
I believed... and I was right to...
I did not ask that. Yes or no?
I forbade her, but...
Sister Suzanne, why are you barefoot?
I have nothing to wear.
Why are your clothes dirty?
I have slept in them for three months. Why?
I have no linen at all.
Why not? It was taken away.
Are you fed? I ask to be.
So you are not.
What misdeed makes you deserving of such severity?
My crime is not to have a calling.
And to renounce my vows. It is up to the law to decide.
Until then, you must be able to carry out your duty.
A complaint about anyone? No, I haven't.
I am here not to accuse but to defend myself.
Where? To your cell.
I have questioned you; now your superior.
I will not leave until order is restored.
Such horrors, so varied and ongoing?
It is improbable.
I agree, Your Grace, but it is true.
That woman is unworthy of her charge.
I think so, Your Grace. She deserves to be removed.
And yet, Mr Hébert, she will not.
Who is stopping you? No one.
Mme de Tourmont must have done what she thought was right.
I used to know her father a little.
They are poor people, of low military status, but honourable.
Her three brothers are excellent officers; the youngest died bravely last year.
But I see the child touched you.
Do not protest; it is not a crime.
What about her request?
I think the ecclesiastical court will reject the claim.
Without further enquiry? What can they do?
Mlle Simonin's friends have been too noisy about it all.
God knows how any indulgence from us would be seen.
See what our philosophers write:
"If the doors of those prisons were opened for one wretched woman, "the crowds would go and try to force them..."
They must be right.
Do not fear for your protègèe, Mr Manouri will appeal, and it will be heard before Parliament.
The magistrates know their duty.
Will you go by their decision? May God make it wise and just.
Gentlemen, let us carry on examining the Simonin case.
Suzanne lost her trial.
What is happening?
Ave Maria. Deo gratias.
Go to the visiting room.
I come from Mr Manouri.
I have lost my case. That I do not know.
He gave me this letter for you.
Will there be a reply? No. Go.
Did you read the letter?
I received it; I didn't read it.
So you do not... Yes, I do.
I worked it out.
If I can make myself useful...
I could see the first president, the vicars-general...
Do not see anyone.
It is all over. No.
You could change houses.
Many decent people take an interest.
Some of them have money: they will provide your dowry.
If you leave with nothing, they will not object.
Those decent people are already forgetting me.
You will leave this place! I ask nothing, I hope for nothing, I oppose nothing.
If only God could change me.
But it is impossible.
This robe has attached itself to my skin, my bones.
I hate this life.
I can feel I hate it.
You must change convents.
I will come and see you again. You will leave this place.
Well, Suzanne, how are you treated?
They forget me. Good.
A favour, please: call the Mother Superior to hear your questions and my answers. Go on.
You will lose me. Do not fear.
You are no longer under her authority.
By the end of the week, you will go to St Eutrope.
You have a good friend.
Mr Manouri? That is he.
He saw the Archbishop and all the people known for piety.
He has placed a dowry for you with that new convent.
If you know of any disorder, I order you to inform me.
I do not.
I order you in the name of holy obedience.
I ask you to keep all this secret.
How do you know Mr Manouri?
From my case.
Did you see him often?
No, only a few times.
And since you lost your case?
Did he write to you? No.
Did you write to him? No.
He will want to tell you what he has done.
I order you not to receive his visits and if he writes, to send me the letter unopened.
Do you hear me? Without opening it.
I hear and will obey you.
How pretty she is!
Sit down, my child.
Oh, sorry, my Lord. Not at all.
I believe you have been told of the woes...
They were wrong, I know!
She is sweetness itself.
You see, my child, the Church... Excuse me.
...by the great variety of its convents, allows each member...
I already love you madly.
...to fulfill their own calling.
There is a place for all and each person must endeavour...
When those pedants have gone, I'll call the sisters and will you sing for us?
...endeavour to find the place assigned to him for all eternity by the Master, Creator of all things.
Come and sit down.
And let me speak.
Since you are changing convent, you should solemnly renew your vows.
We will have a lovely ceremony, my Lord.
Do not forget your dowry was charity.
Chocolate, my Lord?
You were pitied...
Some bread and jam? Please sit down!
You cannot be too grateful...
Poor little thing! But it is over.
We shall console her; she shall do as she wishes.
Some fruit liqueur?
No, thank you.
It is late already.
My child, you have truly suffered.
Your superior and I were boarders together.
We were at Port-Royal. We all loved to hate her.
You can tell me...
That's the new girl. She's so pretty!
Look how ravishing her eyes are!
Take no notice. I have come to see how this is.
My little friend will pray there.
She shall have a cushion.
The armchair - are you comfortable?
It is our household bed linen, not very fine.
The mattress is good.
You must be tired.
You may stay in bed as long as you like.
It is late, Suzanne. Our Mother is asking for you.
Come in, come in!
Good morning Suzanne! Did you sleep well?
This coffee has been waiting for an hour.
I hope it is nice.
Oh, it's cold.
And then we will talk.
Did your mother die long ago?
Nearly a year. Your father?
I still have two sisters, I suppose.
I am told you are full of talent, and wit too, which does no harm!
Did you hear how Sister Ursula sang the Gloria?
I wasn't there, you know!
She is jealous of Dorothèe's canary!
And how Sister Clément looked during the Gospel.
Entertain us, Suzanne; play us something and then you'll sing.
Very pretty, but we have all the saintliness we need at church.
We are alone; my friends will be yours.
Sing something gay.
Any fashionable ballads?
She is tired. No!
She has a lovely voice; she absolutely must sing something.
I know nothing.
Do you not remember what was sung in the world?
It hasn't been long.
It seems far away and I saw so little of the world.
Do you know "Plaisir d'amour"? The sisters sang it.
Yes! "Plaisir d'amour"!
The pleasure of love Only lasts a moment The pain of love Lasts your whole life long
I left everything For ungrateful Sylvie
She left me And took another lover The pleasure of love Only lasts a moment The pain of love Lasts your whole life long
I feel Sister Ursula...
She has the noblest voice... Be quiet!
She plays and sings like an angel and I want to hear her every day.
I once knew how to play: she can help me.
Oh, you do not forget. Let me sit down.
So, what do you think of your pupil?
Her hands are lighter than her teacher's.
And I admire these hands.
See, Sister Thérèse? The prettiest fingers in the world.
Do not lower your eyes. Look at me.
Look at me!
Your superior must know all your thoughts.
You must hide nothing from her.
Tell me everything.
If you hide anything, beware.
I will have you punished in my presence.
Sister Thérèse, go if you are bored.
I am not.
I have so many questions for this child!
I am sure. I want to know her whole story.
I want to know everything they did.
I am sure it will make me cry, but never mind.
Suzanne, when will I know it all?
When you order me.
At once, if we have time.
It is 10 o'clock. The bells will soon ring.
Begin anyway. But Mother...
You promised me some time before the service.
I have unsettling thoughts.
I will not be able to pray in church if I do not tell you first.
Your thoughts are mad.
I bet I know what they are. Tomorrow.
Give my sister what she requests.
I will tell you another time.
Telling you will stop her suffering.
Thérèse, you annoy me. I know.
It embarrasses me and I do not want to be embarrassed.
I am not mistress of my feelings.
I wish I were, but I do not know how.
Dear sister, what is wrong?
Why do you avoid me?
Can our Mother not love both of us?
No, it is not possible.
Why did you come here?
You will not be happy here for long.
And I will be unhappy forever.
What do you fear?
That I abuse her friendship? Take her away from you?
You do not know me.
It is not your fault, I know.
Promise me... What shall I promise?
to see her as little as you can.
But why? Since I assure you that...
I am lost.
Well, girls, are we plotting?
Mother, forgive me for coming here without your permission.
Indeed, you should have asked.
My sister was sad and I wanted to console her.
What about, great God?
Your goodness to me worried her.
She is afraid you will prefer me in your heart.
That feeling of jealousy which is quite natural, and flattering to you, Mother- was... it seemed it had become cruel and I was reassuring her.
Sister Thérèse, I felt friendship for you and I still do, but I will not allow claims to exclusiveness.
Get rid of them if you fear to dampen my remaining attachment to you.
Remember what happened to Sister Agathe.
That tall girl opposite me in the choir.
My child, you know me: I am kind.
Do not make me punish you I would suffer too much.
Come back with me, Sister Suzanne.
Go back to your cell and do not leave it without my permission.
Forgive my sister Thérèse.
She has lost her head and knows not what she does.
Forgive her? I will.
What will you give me in exchange? I have nothing.
It is too late to begin your story, but come and give me a harpsichord lesson.
You had better go back to your cell.
Mother, thank you. What for?
You must not mention it. It is a strict rule, but...
Suzanne, I have been thinking about that Longchamp business.
I have a proposal for you.
Your dowry came from charity, did it?
And the Longchamp sisters kept theirs. Yes...
And gave none back? No, Mother.
You have the right to ask them to give it back.
How would I do that?
A lawsuit against the Longchamp convent, and we would pay the fees.
If we win, we split it.
Come along, girls!
Are you dreaming? Yes.
Yes, I seeing my name appearing again in case notes; hearings with more details, dark things, slander to make me seem horrible...
I would become bitter and ashamed of my innocence and I would weep...
I do not want that.
No more talk of that. It is not important.
Leave her! Leave her alone!
Suzanne, do you love me? Yes, you are so good to me.
No, you do not. Not love you?
No. What must I do?
I am trying. I cannot.
That wool is dirty.
That veil is too tight.
No progress there!
How old are you? Not yet 20.
Will you tell me your life story?
Yes. All of it?
Yes. But it will be long and sad.
Do not worry, I like to weep.
You must like it too.
We can wipe each other's tears and maybe we will be happy in the middle of your sad story.
Who knows where emotion may lead us? So, tell me!
Suzanne, you liked your first Mother Superior very much.
Yes, very much.
She did not love you more than me, but you loved her better.
I was unhappy and she eased my pain.
Who made you hate the convent?
You are hiding something.
It is impossible, pretty as you are, that no one ever told you. I have been told.
And did you like the person?
You fell in love with him?
No secret passion?
Tell me everything, I am indulgent. There's nothing to tell.
So what makes our life so loathsome to you?
This very life.
I hate being put away and held back.
I feel I am called to something else.
Who told you that?
The boredom that weighs heavily on me.
Even here? Oh yes, dear Mother.
Even here, in spite of all your kindness to me.
But... do you feel movements within yourself?
I believe you.
Your character seems peaceful.
Fairly. Cold, even.
I don't know.
Do you know the world? Only a little.
What draws you to it?
I do not know, but I feel it.
Do you miss having freedom?
That, and maybe many other things.
What other things?
My friend, open your heart to me.
Would you like to marry?
I would certainly like that better than being what I am.
I do not know. Do you not?
Tell me, what impression does the presence of a man make upon you?
If he is witty, I listen with pleasure.
If he is handsome, I notice him.
And your heart?
No, not yet.
And when your gaze met a man's did you not feel... Confused, sometimes.
It made me lower my eyes.
But no inner turmoil? No.
Did your senses have nothing to say?
Is there a language of the senses?
Do you not know it? No, dear Mother.
What use would it be to me? It might dissipate your boredom.
Or increase it, maybe.
Mother, I don't understand what you say.
I can be clearer if you want.
No, I would rather not know.
Why be afraid?
She is so innocent!
I am; and I would rather die than stop being so.
Mother, what is the matter?
Did I say something to hurt you?
Forgive me. I speak without thinking. Forgive me.
Suzanne, do you sleep well? Yes.
Do you fall straight to sleep? Almost always.
And when you do not, what do you think about?
My past life, and how sad the rest of it will be.
I either pray to God or I weep.
And when you wake early in the morning?
At once? At once.
Do you not like to dream?
Rest upon your pillow?
Enjoy the gentle warmth of your bed? No.
Have you never been tempted to see with complacency how lovely you are?
No. I don't know if I am as lovely as you say.
And... we are beautiful for others, not for ourselves.
Do you not ever...
Mother, Father Lemoine wants to see you.
I forbade you to leave your room.
What are you doing here? Obeying our Mother.
Were you together long?
As long as she wanted.
I did not promise anything.
Will you dare tell me what you did?
Have pity on me.
Do not worry, Suzanne, it is me.
What is the matter, Mother?
Why are you not asleep?
I cannot sleep. My dreams torment me.
I see you in their hands, with messy hair and bloody feet.
I tremble and wake up.
I fear some misfortune, an omen from Heaven.
I wanted to see my friend. Dear Mother.
I caught cold, but I have nothing to fear.
I think I am going to sleep.
Give me your hand.
Your pulse is calm; nothing troubles it.
Dear Mother, you are still catching cold.
You are right.
Goodbye my friend.
What is the matter? Are you weeping?
It is Thérèse.
Yes, it must be her.
Do not hurt her.
Go back to bed; sleep well.
Sister Suzanne, go back to your cell.
I do not want you to confess today.
Why not? I do not want you to.
But what will people... Whatever they like.
If you confess to me, I can absolve you.
What is this?
Come. I will hear you.
Go then, since you must, but promise me...
Say whatever you like. God will judge me.
But Father, she is my superior.
She can come to my room, call me to hers, ...whenever she likes. I know.
Blessed be God for keeping you so long.
I daren't speak more clearly.
I do not wish to become her accomplice.
But I order you to flee from her.
Never go into her room alone.
Shut your door to her, especially at night.
If she comes in nonetheless, go into the corridor.
Call out; shout if you must. Arouse the household.
Do everything you would if Satan himself stood before you and pursued you.
Yes, my child, Satan.
That is who you must see, disguised as your superior.
Say with me,
Are you in good health?
Yes, Father. Can you go without sleep for a night?
Yes, Father. Well...
Do not go to bed tonight.
After supper go to the foot of the altar and spend the night in prayer.
You do not know what danger you were in.
You will thank God for having protected you.
The only penance I give you is to keep far from your superior.
I am aware how my advice affects you but I owe it to you.
God is the Master and we only have one law.
Suzanne, what are you doing here?
You can see.
Do you know what time it is? Yes.
Why are you not in your room?
I am preparing for Holy Communion.
Do you mean to spend the night?
Who gave you permission?
Father Lemoine ordered me.
He cannot give orders against the rules.
I order you to go to bed.
This is the penance he gave me.
You will do other work instead.
I do not choose.
Come along, my child, this cold night will make you ill.
You can pray in your cell.
You are avoiding me.
Yes, I am.
Get back, Satan! What is the matter? Stop!
I am not Satan.
I am your superior and your friend.
Forgive me, dear Mother.
It is not me, it is Father Lemoine.
What did you tell him?
He questioned me; I had to answer.
So now I am horrible in your eyes.
There was nothing to say.
What is more normal than my friendship for you?
He sees things differently.
He sees the blackness of sin.
You, already lost; me, about to be.
I do not know.
Father Lemoine sees visions!
This is not his first dispute.
If I get attached to someone, he tries to turn her against me.
He nearly drove poor Thèrèse mad.
I am beginning to have enough. I will get rid of him.
He lives ten leagues from here and cannot always come when we need him.
But will you not come back up to talk comfortably?
No, dear Mother, no.
Please allow me to spend the night here or tomorrow I will not dare...
And you? Will you receive communion?
Did Father Lemoine say nothing?
We go to confess our sins; my friendship for you does not seem one.
Let us go up to my room.
No, dear Mother, I swore to God I would not.
I will not come to see you again.
Let us each say one more little prayer, then come with me.
No, Mother, no.
Give me permission to spend the night here.
On condition that you do not do it again.
I wanted to see Father Lemoine.
You will not see him.
I am the new director.
Can I count on your discretion?
I believe someone wrote to the Archbishop.
What did they say?
He lives too far away; his morals are too austere.
They suspect he is a Jansenist; he sows division here and turns the nuns against their superior.
Who told you that?
He did. I see him sometimes.
He told me about you. What did he say?
That you were to be pitied; that he had only seen you once or twice, but he was afraid for you. That he dreaded...
Let us leave it.
I am your confessor;
I can also confide in you.
My example will perhaps give you a little courage.
I do not have a calling either, Sister Suzanne.
And I never have.
I also entered into religion in spite of myself.
The persecution you received from your parents and superiors, I too have received.
Why tell me this?
To teach you to bear your condition.
That is our only resort.
We don't avoid sorrow but we are resigned.
Good monks and nuns rejoice in their cross; they anticipate mortifications; they exchange their present happiness for future happiness.
Sister Suzanne, we suffer the same sorrows but for what reward?
We are damned in penance as surely as others in their worldly pleasures.
We deprive ourselves; they have fun.
And afterwards, the same Hell awaits us.
We are laden with chains, and no hope of breaking them.
Dear sister, let us try to drag them.
Goodbye. I will come and see you again.
No, dear Mother, no, I promised.
It is best for both of us.
I take up too much space in your soul and that is lost to God.
Is that for you to criticise?
Will you not come in?
No, dear Mother, no.
Will you not, Saint-Suzanne?
You do not know what may happen.
You do not know!
You will kill me...
Sister Saint-Clement, pray for me.
Sister Thèrèse, pray for me.
But... What Father Lemoine said?
He was right to say it. Why?
Sister, follow my advice and that of Father Lemoine and try not to know why as long as you live.
But if I knew what the danger was, I could better avoid it.
It might be the opposite.
Is your opinion of me so low?
Some lights are harmful.
Had you known more, your superior would have respected you less.
I do not understand.
All the better.
How can affection be dangerous?
Why is saying we love each other wrong?
It is so sweet.
That is true.
And is it so common?
Poor Mother Superior.
She was not made for convent life.
That is what happens when you go against nature.
A sort of madness.
Is she mad?
Yes, she is, and she will become even more so.
And all those who enter without a calling - do you think that is their fate?
No, not all of them.
Some die before, or become used to it, or hope for a while...
Hope for what?
Having their vows rescinded.
Finding a door open one day, the convent catching fire, the cloister walls falling down...
You are right.
I saw those illusions.
I still do.
And when we lose them we hate ourselves and hate others.
We call upon Heaven; we look for a nice, high window, a well, a rope...
Sometimes we find them.
Some become furious.
Some take their hopes with them to the grave.
Those are the lucky ones.
And no doubt the most unlucky.
Oh, Father, I am sorry to have heard you.
Why? I did not know myself...
And now I do.
Father, I am damned.
Sister Thérèse, how is our Mother?
It will kill her. What must I do?
You could have done much.
Sister, I do not understand.
I cannot wait any longer.
I must speak to you.
Father, I will not see you outside the confessional any more.
Listen to me, Suzanne.
Today I must confess to you.
What is the matter? Leave me alone.
You made me lose what courage I still had, and yet I...
How can I give you that courage?
I don't have it myself.
Listen to me. Never have two beings been so alike as you and I.
The story of your soul is also the story of mine.
Why do you say that?
We are damned together.
Suzanne, you too are damning yourself.
Suzanne, you must flee.
Everything is ready.
A carriage will wait for you. I have friends.
You will be in safety.
You can forget your suffering.
Discover the world they tried to hide from you.
I do not believe you.
I cannot believe you.
Do you not want to be free?
More than ever - but not like that.
It is the only way.
Give me two days.
Until tomorrow evening.
Be at the bottom of the garden by the well between 11 and midnight.
Suzanne! Yes, Sister.
Go to the stable and say your Deo gratias.
Look at her pretending to be a nun. Sister Saint-Mary!
Did the girl who ran away get caught?
Not yet, but the monk was brought back.
What did they do?
Gave him back to his superiors.
He'll spend his life in a dungeon.
The girl too, if she is found.
Serves them right for scorning religion.
Marie, what is the matter?
Are you silly enough to be moved by that girl?
All she had to do was eat, drink, pray and sleep.
It was a good life.
Not like going to the river in this weather.
We only know our own suffering.
She is a naughty girl and God will punish her.
You must not stay there, my child. Come with me.
Did you take my message?
To Mr Manouri? He is dead.
It is not true.
Do not cry, there are others.
Better-looking and more loving.
And we are not jealous!
Forgive me, Lord.
Subtitles: Victoria Britten And just like the madness of a man who, not knowing how to sail, might take to the sea with no one to pilot him, is the madness of a creature who enters upon religious life without God's will to guide her.