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Who would have thought that a singing nun would have
one of the biggest musical hits of the 1960s -- but that's ex-
actly what happened to Jeannine Decker, a Dominican nun
whose single 'Dominique' became a sensation, outselling The Beatles
and thrusting the novitiate into the world spotlight.
Anyone who’s seen the 60’s ﬂick The Singing Nun starring Debbie
Reynolds may think they're au fait with Decker 's story but director
Stijn Coninx’s new ﬁlm, Sister Smile, reveals the dark heart behind
Coninx and star Cecile de France collaborated together for several
years to bring the ﬁlm to the screen and the result is a moving tale that
reveals Decker to be an oft times obstinate, always rebellious, some-
times depressed human being. Decker's clashes with the Church are
captured on ﬁlm, as is her slide into alcoholism and depression and her
love affair with another woman.
For de France, the role is career making, a perfect distillation of
character. The young actress, who shot to fame with The Spanish
Apartment, has a unique afﬁnity for the role; her passion to portray
Decker as a human complete with all her foibles is the movie's main
De France describes Decker as "a rebel, a dissenter who exceed-
ed her limits authorised by her status." But she also believes Decker
wanted the Church "to be in service of humanity". She calls Decker
a “big, unstable and surly teenager who never became grownup”; but
admires the way she "did not hesitate to take risks and to assume her
progressive ideas, while claiming a sincere faith. For those days, she
was a punk prematurely!"
Coninx tends to agree: "She especially tried to move the youth of her
country closer to the Church. It is not a coincidence that at the begin-
ning of the ﬁlm, Jeannine watches John XXIII on TV: he is one of the
only popes who knew how to open the religious institution to the world
and to the youngest generations."
Coninx admits he is in debt to de France for her commitment to the
role -- the movie's long and uncertain development process could have
dissuaded the most ardent performer but de France stuck to her guns,
learning to sing and play the guitar and collaborating with Coninx on
the script. It was a unique process for the director. "I met Cecile de
France in Paris and discovered a woman who was very passionate
about the complexities of the character and the story. I see it as a love
story, so we started from zero with the script and tried to make it a
story about love. Her drama is about running away from love and that
became her tragedy."
As for the reasoning behind this retelling of the famous singing nun
tale, Coninx says: "I thought the story was very tragic, very dramatic
and because the ﬁrst ﬁlm that was made in '66 was in the middle of her
success -- the real drama started afterwards..."
Sister Smile is now showing at cinemas.
A nun's story that's all heart. By Cec Busby.
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