Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Garden of Allah (1936)

My sister Andrea discovered The Garden of Allah long before I did; she highly recommended it, saying, "I saw a movie you would really like. There are nuns in it, and Marlene Dietrich." When I eventually saw the film, her words were proved to be true. The Garden of Allah is a haunting film, subtle yet ravishing in primitive Technicolor. The idea of sultry Marlene Dietrich portraying a pious spinster may seem too far-fetched at first. Marlene pulled it off admirably, perhaps because she had a certain singularity about her, and such a deep reserve, in spite of her image. Charles Boyer is always excellent when depicting a tormented soul.

The 1936 film was based upon a forgotten novel, popular in its time. The heroine Domini, played by Marlene, is on the verge of a breakdown following many years of caring for her invalid father, who has died. She returns to the convent where she was educated, seeking guidance. The Mother Superior advises her to make a pilgrimage into the desert. Garbed in what can only be described as Dior desert chic, Domini ventures into the Sahara, which is called "The Garden of Allah" by the Bedouins. There she meets the Boyer character, whom she thinks is merely a neurotic Russian ex-patriot with a major grudge against the Catholic Church. In spite of his weirdness, or maybe because of it, she is drawn to him.

In The Garden of Allah the desert setting plays as much a part as any of characters. It is the emptiness and the hazards of the desert which bring the various persons into confrontation with each other, and with their inner selves. The redemptive side of the love of a man and a woman is strongly highlighted. In The Garden of Allah it is the woman who must encourage the man towards his true vocation, at great cost to herself. It is in the desert that love blossoms, but it is love made holy only by sacrifice. Share


Clare said...

Carmelites call their cloisters deserts also, no?
Charles Foucault found a profound answer to his spiritual thirst in the Algerian(?) desert among the Tuareg bedouins:

And of course one of my favorite deserts, Saint-Exupery, La Sagesse des Sables

"Tout acte est prière, s'il est don de soi"

inspired perhaps by his patron saint Antoine de L'Egypte?

Indeed do we not all need to be more cogniscant of the austerity required of us for :the Lord to pitch his tent" in our souls...?

God Bless
Clare Krishan

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, indeed, Clare, that is why I thought that the film kind of goes with the Mount Carmel theme. Thank you for making the connection! Excellent!

Moshea bat Abraham said...

People are always a tad surprised to learn that I love movies about nuns. There are some excellent ones: Black Narcissus, A Nun's Story, In This House of Brede. (That last one made me wish we Jews had a monastic tradition.)

I love Marlene Dietrich and I love movies about nuns. I just put this at the top of my Netflix Queue.

elena maria vidal said...

I love all the films you just mentioned, Moshea. You will love The Garden of Allah, although the nuns are only shown at the beginning. You might also like "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" with Deborah Kerr as a feisty Irish nun hiding from the Japanese with Robert Mitchum.

Moshea bat Abraham said...

Deborah Kerr? I am so there. Thanks!

I think I just gave you all the titles of good nun movies I know of. Phooey, I hoped I'd get to introduce you to one or two.

gmn1660 said...

This film was showing on television here in India not long ago! I realized right away what it was because I remember you writing about this a while back. I was busy while it was on, so I only saw bits and pieces, but I do hope to sit down and watch it in its entirety some day soon.


Enbrethiliel said...


How about Green Dolphin Street? The nuns don't play a huge role, but to explain their significance would be to give the ending away.

elena maria vidal said...

Oh, yes, "Green Dolphin Street." That's the best one of all.

Nancy Reyes said...

on youtube

elena maria vidal said...