Porn King Loses Love; Bullied Nun Flees: Berlin Films

Paul Raymond was one of Britain’s richest men, building a fortune on his early recognition of the indisputable fact that sex sells.

It was 1958 when he opened Raymond’s Revue Bar in London’s Soho district, operating it as a private club to bypass rules on public displays of nudity. His life story -- one of success, excess and tragedy -- is the subject of “The Look of Love,” an entertaining film biography by Michael Winterbottom showing in the Berlinale Special section of the Berlin Film Festival.

The British comedy actor Steve Coogan plays Raymond in this dramatized version of his life, bringing a mix of wit, charisma, flamboyance and vulnerability. It’s a convincing portrayal of a man who came from nowhere and appeared to have everything, living the ultimate playboy lifestyle in his Ringo Starr- designed London apartment.

Raymond brags about his wealth -- telling everyone at his daughter’s wedding how much it cost, for instance -- and is a terrible name-dropper (“I’m friends with all the Beatles, except Yoko Ono of course.”) He sleeps with half his models, sometimes several of them at a time.

Yet Raymond failed to hold on to the three women he cared about. His first wife Jean, played by Anna Friel, won the biggest divorce settlement in the U.K. after he abandoned her for one of his performers. Fiona Richmond (leggy Tamsin Egerton) left to lead a “normal life” after seven years.

Source: Berlin Film Festival via Bloomberg

Pauline Etienne in "The Nun." It is showing in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, which runs through Feb. 17. Close

Pauline Etienne in "The Nun." It is showing in competition at the Berlin Film Festival,... Read More

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Source: Berlin Film Festival via Bloomberg

Pauline Etienne in "The Nun." It is showing in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, which runs through Feb. 17.

Drugs Death

Most tragically, Raymond’s daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), the real love of his life and the person he wanted to take over the business, died of a drug overdose at the age of 36.

“The Look of Love” has some good moments, both poignant and comic. In one farcical scene, two nude models under strict instructions to remain motionless have to escape the stage when a performing lion starts growling ominously.

With a fast and witty script, it captures swinging Soho and a glittering yet seedy stratum of London society through the second half of the 20th century. It’s likely to have strong local appeal yet probably won’t take the rest of the world by storm -- the lens is a little too narrowly focused for that. Rating: ***.

Bullying Nuns

In “The Nun,” based on the 18th-century novel by Denis Diderot, a young woman, Suzanne Simonin (Pauline Etienne), is coerced by her family into taking the veil against her will. She plots to escape the convent.

No wonder. Faced with her resistance to a life devoted to God, the nuns at her first establishment torture and bully her, accusing her of being possessed by the devil. They force her to walk on glass, lock her in a cell and deprive her of food, water and washing facilities.

Yet still she resists. She is transferred to a second convent, where a lustful Mother Superior -- a fabulous Isabelle Huppert -- climbs into her bed demanding kisses and hugs.

Suzanne yearns desperately for freedom and a life in the real world. You can’t help wondering what she’ll experience there that she hasn’t already gone through in the supposedly safe, cloistered life of the convent.

Beautifully shot with impeccable acting, “The Nun” is a piece of skilled film-making that is a tad too long at just under two hours. Its religious repression and rigid patriarchal structures are perhaps what you would expect to find in 18th- century France.

The more remarkable aspect is Suzanne’s dogged refusal to accept her lot, and the movie’s great find is Etienne in the main role. She has an innocence combined with a detachment that conveys the core strength of her character.

Jacques Rivette’s film of the same novel ended with the lead character’s suicide. Director Guillaume Nicloux chooses a more positive outcome that vindicates her determination, yet feels unsatisfactorily incomplete.

Rating: **½.

The Berlin Film Festival runs through Feb. 17. For more information, go to https://www.berlinale.de/en

What the Stars Mean:
***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

Muse highlights include Robert Heller on rock, Farah Nayeri on film, Elin McCoy on wine and Greg Evans on U.S. television.

To contact the reporter on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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