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
An often-reported legend surrounding this movie is the story that Audrey Hepburn demanded a bidet be provided for her on location in the Congo. Hepburn always denied this, wondering how such an extravagance could even be hooked up in the Congo. 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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An intense conflict between spirituality and humanity lies at the core of Fred Zinneman's excellent adaptation of Katherine Hulme's "The Nun's Story." Young Gabrielle enters the convent and, as Sister Luke, strives to attain the difficult qualities of sisterhood, but at the same time her talents and skills at medicine and research pull her in another direction. Gabrielle is taught that a nun not only takes vows of chastity and poverty, but must also be obedient and humble. Although not overtly discussed, Sister Luke's decision to enter the convent may have been connected to a romantic affair, the only evidence of which are a ring, a photograph, and a comment from her father. Although Sister Luke tries to obey the rules of silence and obedience, she is the daughter of a prominent physician, and she harbors ambitions to work in medicine and serve in the Congo. The conflict between the two competing ambitions reaches a crisis point when a sister superior suggests to her that she fail her medical examinations in order to show humility.
Audrey Hepburn imbues Sister Luke with a radiance and glow that illuminates the screen. In what is arguably her finest performance, Hepburn displays the subtle shades of conflict and doubt that creep into her persona as she struggles between her roles as a Bride of Christ and a practical nurse to the sick and dying. Reportedly, Hepburn's interest in helping the needy of Africa began during the location shooting for this film.
A galaxy of fine actresses shine as the sisters with whom Sister Luke interacts. Such luminaries as Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Mildred Dunnock, Barbara O'Neil, and Beatrice Straight offer their own special glow as patient and understanding nuns. Colleen Dewhurst has only a couple of memorable scenes as a hospital inmate, but, with few lines of dialog, she creates an enduring character. Peter Finch and Dean Jagger are solid and effective as, respectively, Dr. Fortunati, who works with Sister Luke in the Congo, and as Gabrielle's disappointed father.
While "The Nun's Story" is comparatively long, the fascinating detail of the young nun's years as a novice, medical student, asylum aide, missionary, and hospital nurse in Belgium and the Congo during the 1930's is engrossing and tastefully filmed by Fred Zinneman. With beautiful cinematography by Franz Planer and a spare, but lovely, score by Franz Waxman, "The Nun's Story" is one of the most religious movies ever filmed. Few films have ever so successfully explored the demands of a spiritual life and the conflict those demands can create in someone with strong human needs. With Audrey Hepburn at her zenith, "The Nun's Story" was among the finest films of the 1950's and still remains a rewarding emotional experience.
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