In 1930, in Belgium, Gabrielle van der Mal is the stubborn daughter of the prominent surgeon Dr. Pascin Van Der Mal that decides to leave her the upper-class family to enter to a convent, expecting to work as nun in Congo with tropical diseases. She says good-bye to her sisters Louise and Marie; to her brother Pierre; and to her beloved father, and subjects herself to the stringent rules of the retrograde institution, including interior silent and excessive humbleness and humiliation. After a long period working in a mental institution, Gaby is finally assigned to go to Congo, where she works with the Atheist and cynical, but brilliant, Dr. Fortunati. Sister Luke proves to be very efficient nurse and assistant, and Dr. Fortunati miraculous heals her tuberculosis. Years later, she is ordered to return to Belgium and when her motherland is invaded by the Germans, she learns that her beloved father was murdered by the enemy while he was helping wounded members of the resistance. Sister ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fred Zinnemann was strongly opposed to the studio's demand that there should be music over the final scene. Zinnemann felt that music would detract from the depth and grace of Audrey Hepburn's performance in this pivotal scene. Jack L. Warner felt otherwise but eventually relented. The scene remains one of the most memorable and famous from this acclaimed film, precisely for its restraint. When the film previewed in San Francisco with only Gregorian Chant as its score, Warner felt the results were disastrous, especially after the studio had gone to the expense of sending Waxman to Rome for three months. See more »
In the scene where they are making their vows, the priest blesses each one in Latin. The formula should be "et Spiritus Sancti" and not "et Spiritus Sanctus." See more »
"He that shall lose his life for me shall find it. If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor, and come follow me." Each sister shall understand that on entering the convent, she has made the sacrifice of her life to God.
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When Audrey Hepburn, as Sister Luke returns from the Belgian Congo, she has a brief meeting with her father, whom she has not seen in years. So much time has gone by that they engage mostly in small talk. He when he finally asks her how she is "inside" (gesturing to her heart), she responds with, "Fine, how are you, Father"?. He replies, "Still very lonesome for you". That scene alone is enough to break your heart.
The Nun's Story is filled with such scenes. Fred Zinnemann directed this film so perfectly that you don't even realize that for the first 40 minutes or so, you are being instructed on how nuns learn to "act like nuns".
There are lots of famous actors in those habits, too. Beatrice Straight (Network), Barbara O'Neill (Gone with the Wind), as well as a glorious performance by Dame Edith Evans as Mother Emmanuel.
The amount of emotion that Audrey Hepburn can portray with just her eyes, a turn of her head, or a subtle facial expression is simply incredible. Without giving away any important plot element, there is one scene where she is in her cell trying to cope with a letter that she received. It is one of the most painful scenes in the entire film.
Sister Luke's struggles are balanced by scenes that are so beautiful in their simplicity, that to attempt description here would be impossible.
And the film score by Franz Waxman is one of the best things he has ever written - most of the melodic motifs are based on ancient Gregorian chant, and the orchestration is superb. When we reach a climactic scene involving Colleen Dewhurst, he switches from his Romanticized writing style to a 20th century 12-tone technique, and the shock of the dissonant music fits the action of the scene perfectly.
Sister Luke's struggle is universal. Anyone who has looked deep into their own soul for whatever reason can identify with her.
When Sister Luke is asked by her father to describe her doctor in the Congo, she smiles and says, "Exceptional". The same can be said for this beautiful film.
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