Film Review
by J. C. Adamson

Anchoress


Director: Chris Newby 
Cast: Natalie Morse, supporting cast 
Cinematography: Michel Baudor 

Rating: Must see

Review

Filmmaker Chris Newby immerses us completely in the religion and mysticism of a medieval English village. We think we have a battle of the sexes today! Anchoress returns us to the elemental struggle between the matriarchy and the patriarchy. Is God male or female?

Fourteen year old Christine (Natalie Morse) chooses to be sealed for life in a tiny cell, in the wall of the village church, because she has seen visions of the Virgin Mary. So begins a struggle for power between the pagan and the Christian, between the sacred and the secular, and between the masculine and the feminine.

Christine is deified by the villagers. She is consulted as an oracle. She is given spiritual authority. The village priest then struggles to take her back within his power. In arguing with her about the color of the Virgin's robes, he attempts to teach her how to be a goddess. She believes she knows how.

The story is told in powerful symbols of earth, birth, and bread. We're made to see the parallels between the Mother of God and Mother Earth. We witness woman being born of the earth itself, and giving birth in the arms of the earth, and returning that birth to the earth. The sexual and spiritual symbols never stop.

The dialogue of Anchoress is as spare and lean as its visual images are rich and textured. Cinematographer Michel Baudor explores detail and texture with unrestrained intimacy. His lens is so close to skin, stone, fiber, and grain, that we can feel them. So close that we see them out of context, and they become different things. We go in and out of the earth, and in and out of the human corpus. Our immersion in the images is enhanced because the film is shot almost entirely in black and white. The film is so visually rich that it needs no music. But for a few pieces of important information, it could exist with no voice at all.

If you're a student of religions, or of medieval Christianity, you'll be fascinated by Anchoress. But you needn't be a student of anything to be captivated by this film. If you only watch its images, you'll be movedó and at a level far deeper than words can reach.

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© 1996, J. C. Adamson


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