The day Jacques Rivette came face to face with censorship

Film stilll of La Religieuse (The Nun) © RR

In 1966, The Nun, the second film by Jacques Rivette, was banned by the Information Ministry after a outcry from the Catholic community. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Diderot, the feature film is presented in a restored version in Cannes Classics in the presence of its actress Anna Karina. It tells the story of a young girl packed off by force to a convent.

Suzanne Simonin, la Religieuse de Diderot, (Suzanne Simonin, Diderot's Nun), the original title of the feature film, caused a stir before the film was even due for release. This was 1965 and the mere announcement of the shoot unleashed the fury of the religious authorities, who tried to prevent it. Letters condemning the blasphemous nature of the film flooded in to the office of Alain Peyrefitte, the Minister for Information. Very quickly, the doors of all churches and convents were firmly shut, forcing the film crew to take refuge in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon to complete the work.

The Nun was inspired by the novel by Denis Diderot published posthumously in 1796. Anna Karina played Suzanne, a young woman sent to the cloisters by her parents, against her will, who refuses to take her vows.

Fearful of public disturbances, the Secretary of State for Information banned the film on 31 March 1966. Jacques Rivette denied having made a film that attacked religion. "All it does is to question the fundamentals of monastic life in extremely noble and reflective terms," he explained.

The affair made the headlines and the censoring of the film caused an outcry in artistic circles. "We were called all kinds of names every day," said Anna Karina. In a virulent letter addressed André Malraux, the Minister for Culture, Jean-Luc Godard vigorously defended the work of the man who had been the  director of the Cahiers du Cinéma between 1963 and 1965. Despite the censorship, the film was screened in Competition at the Festival de Cannes a month later.

The Nun was finally released in July 1967, complete with an over-18 rating, which was definitively lifted in November 1988.