Reportedly, when this 1971 film was released in Europe, it was advertised as being “The French film that was banned in France.”
That wasn’t just hyperbole. Don’t Deliver Us From Evil was so controversial that it was accused of promoting “blasphemy” and it was barely released in its native country. It would be thirty years before the film was finally released in the United States and, even then, it would just be a DVD release. The United States and France may not have agreed on much but apparently, they both agreed that Don’t Deliver Us From Evil was just too dangerous to be released into theaters.
The film is loosely based on a true story, the same 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case that would later inspire Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures. In Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme are reimagined as Anne de Boissy (Jeanne Goupil) and Lore Fournier (Catherine Wagener), two 15 year-old girls who meet at boarding school and become fast friends. Together, they read sordid novels, they spy on the nuns, and they taunt the priest with fictional confessions. (Anne has erotic fantasies about the priest during Mass. Are you starting to get why some people considered this film to be blasphemous?) During the summer, Lore stays at Anne’s estate. Spending all of their time together, they start to play games that become increasingly dangerous and cruel. For instance, they playfully taunt a pervy goat herder until the man attempts to rape Lore. Lore and Anne manage to escape and they get their revenge by burning down the man’s home. Meanwhile, they also find the time to cruelly taunt their mentally disabled gardener, pledge their souls to Satan, and eventually kill a stranger. Uh-oh, summer’s over! Time to go back to school. Hopefully, Lore and Anne were able to successfully hide the stranger’s body because there certainly are a lot of police around. It all leads to a shocking and rather disturbing finale.
The question running through the film is whether the girls are evil or if they’re just playing a game. Many of their actions are undeniably cruel, especially when it comes to taunting the gardener. But there are other times when Anne and Lore are revealed to be painfully naïve. Having been raised by nuns and often ignored by their wealthy parents, Anne and Lore’s knowledge of sex and sexuality is largely the result of the “forbidden” books that they read late at night when everyone else is asleep. For most of the movie, neither seems to care that their “games” have real world consequences but is that due to them being evil or is it due to them being completely sheltered and cut-off from the rest of the world? When they pledge their souls to Satan, is it because they truly want to be evil or is it just something to do for a laugh? Anne is undeniably the dominant personality in their friendship. Anne has a near breakdown when she spends two days apart from Lore but, at the same time, it’s Anne who is constantly instructing Lore to do things that put her safety at risk. Lore herself seems to be a follower, one who follows Anne even when Anne is putting Lore’s life at risk.
Don’t Deliver Us From Evil has enough sex, violence, and nudity (though Lore and Anne are both 15, the actresses playing them were 19 and 20) that it’s not surprising that the film was controversial. That said, it’s not a bad film. Much as Peter Jackson did when he told his version of the Parker-Hulme Murder Case, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil refuses to pass easy judgment on either of the girls. Instead, it’s left to the viewer to try to figure out if Anne and Lore are evil or if they’re just immature and confused. Director Joel Seria directs most of his ire not at the girls but at the Church and at Anne’s upper class parents. Having pushed her off on the Church to raise, Anne’s parents never seem to be particularly interested in what their daughter is doing. Even during the film’s apocalyptic finale, Anne’s parents (and really, just about every adult in the film) is clueless as to what’s actually happening right in front of them.
Watching the film, I could imagine the controversy that it caused when it was first released. While some of the once-shocking scenes are tame by today’s standards, there are still a few moments that retain their power to shock. Ultimately, though, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil is an intelligent exploration of la mauvaise caractère.