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In all honesty, I have to point out right away that this user-comment starts out with an error in its title. "The Nun of Monza" is not exactly the very first nunsploitation movie ever made. There's at least one (and perhaps some others that I totally don't know about) movie handling about the same topic, and it predates this version with more than five years. Only that movie also named "The Nun of Monza" is more difficult to track down than the lost continent of Atlantis and I doubt it'll ever be available in a decent version. In general, Eriprando Visconti's film may be considered the pioneer of nunsploitation, as it got released a couple years before the sub genre's most famous titles like Ken Russell's "The Devils", Jess Franco's "The Sex Demons" and Gianfranco Mingozzi's "Flavia The Heretic". And particularly because it was the first of its kind, you better not expect to see a movie filled with perverted sex scenes and explicit violence! Filmmakers like the aforementioned Jess Franco or Joe D'Amato made the term "nunsploitation" a synonym with pure sleaze, as the setting offers an easy excuse to show loads of lesbian sex, insane devil-worshiping rituals and brutal whippings. "The Nun of Monza", however, is a very serious and devastating drama, based on true events that took place early in 17th Century in Italy and emphasizing on the hypocrisy and abuse of power of the Catholic Church. The story is incredibly convoluted and often difficult to follow, but at the same time truly fascinating and the recreation of time & era are brilliant. Spaniards occupied the whole of Italy and even the poorest inhabitants of small villages are forced to pay taxes. The young sister Virginia de Leyva is Mother Superior against her will and her convent offers refugee to a handsome stud that killed a Spanish tax collector. During his stay at the convent, Giampaolo rapes Virginia and gets thrown in jail. When she gives birth to a daughter nine months later, Virginia and Giampaolo flee together, also charged with the murder of a fellow convent sister. The story is far more detailed than this, with treasonous characters and sexual corruption behind every convent door, but it's too much to summarize here. For as far as I remember the stuff my high-school history teacher attempted to tell me, the political background of this film is accurate to the tiniest detail. It's also a very well made film, especially considering the low production values! The cinematography and decors are extremely stylish and the film also benefits from a splendid Ennio Morricone score. The acting is great with Antonio Sabato ("Seven Blood-Stained Orchids") and Anne Heywood ("What Waits Below") bringing an amazing and plausible chemistry on screen. A beautiful movie, but certainly not for all tastes.
The first time I became aware of this film's medieval erotic/religious/political narrative was via the VHS of a soft-core version of the same events called DEVILS OF MONZA (1986); other Italian adaptations were made in 1947, 1962 (perhaps the best-regarded of the lot a viewing of which, incidentally, followed soon after this one), 1980 (directed by notorious "Euro-Cult" exponent Bruno Mattei!) and even a TV mini-series in 2004. Having preceded it by another "Nunsploitationer" the slightly superior ABBESS OF CASTRO (1974) one can see how the genre was thematically limited, but an obvious exploitation goldmine which bloomed at this particular time when a laxity in censorship made itself felt. In fact, the plots of both films have much in common where the Mother Superior (in this case, Anne Heywood) is impregnated (rather than by a Bishop, here it's fugitive Antonio Sabato) and eventually victimized, more than anything else for political reasons; still, the corrupt cleric is still presented in the person of Hardy Kruger as the convent's Spiritual Director! As was the case with both the afore-mentioned ABBESS OF CASTRO and the even more notable FLAVIA, THE HERETIC (1974) all of which were watched during the course of a singe day! THE NUN OF MONZA's main assets are the prestigious names roped in to shoot and score it (Luigi Kuveiller and Ennio Morricone respectively); on the other hand, the career co-writer/director Visconti (despite being the nephew of celebrated auteur Luchino) did not amount to much! Anyway, Heywood is decent in the lead (looking startlingly like Giovanna Ralli from the 1962 version and who would go on to appear in THE NUNS OF ST. ARCHANGEL aka THE NUN AND THE DEVIL ), but Sabato fatally lacks conviction as the man for whom she pretty much loses her soul (actually, their affair begins by his rape of her bafflingly condoned by two fellow nuns who subsequently flee the convent with Sabato and, later still, are killed by him!). Sadly, Kruger is not given much to do in spite of the complexity of his role; also on hand are Giovanna Galletti (Baroness Graps from Mario Bava's KILL, BABY KILL! ) as the stricter nun who succeeds Heywood, Pier Paolo Capponi (later ascending to leading man for ABBESS OF CASTRO), a blonde Rita Calderoni as Sabato's jilted fiancée (I should be getting her NUDE FOR Satan  soon, which promises to be pure "Euro-Cult" wackiness) and, oddly uncredited since both roles have considerable prominence, Carla Gravina (as yet another nun who makes the list of Sabato's conquests) and Luigi Pistilli (as a nobleman relative of Heywood's). While certainly watchable, the film is rather dull overall (especially considering that it is nowhere near as explicit as later genre outings) though the poor English-dubbing may have also contributed to my dissatisfaction; even so, we get some unexpected moments of violence (Gravina is given a solid thrashing and thrown down flight of stairs by her fellow nuns who, in turn, end up on the receiving end of Sabato's ire as already mentioned) and Heywood's own fate walled up alive in a darkened room seems exceedingly harsh under the circumstances.
Nunsploitation is certainly one of the more bizarre cult cinema genres,
and The Nun of Monza may well be the first film to be made of this
kind. I wont profess to be a huge fan of this genre, although there are
several good examples; Images in a Convent and School of the Holy Beast
being the best that I've seen. This one is an early example and as is
often the case with pioneering films, it's not as lurid as some of the
later ones made by the likes of Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato and takes
an approach that gives more weight to the storyline; though The Nun of
Monza does still feature most of the nunsploitation trademarks. The
plot will be familiar to anyone who knows anything about this type of
film and focuses on a young girl who is accused of wrongdoing by a
sleazy priest and packed off to a convent for wayward girls. However,
the people in charge of this convent don't adhere to the normal
Christian teachings and the girl soon finds herself unable to escape
from the devil worshippers, lesbians and general deviance that plagues
Unlike the later nunsploitation flicks, this one is actually a 'serious' attempt at a film and it has t be said that director Eriprando Visconti has done a good job with it. The cinematography is superb and most of the scenes are well staged. Anne Heywood does very well in the lead role and convinces as the young girl at the centre of the tale while receiving good feedback from a supporting cast lead by Antonio Sabato. The sleaze elements in this film are not the main focal point, but we still get treated to some lesbianism, torture and devil worship. The sequence in which the devil is conjured is one of the best in the movie. I must admit I prefer nunsploitation that is more along the lines of Images in a Convent - i.e. where the focus is on nudity and sleaze, but the other side of nunsploitation can be good if done correctly; and that is certainly the case with this film. Nun of Monza is for my money at the top end of the nunsploitation genre; I realise that's not saying a great deal considering some of the films in the genre, but this early one still beats off a lot of the competition. Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Disturbing but accurate Italian Chronicle of the XVII century. It depicts the real story of the Spanish nun Virginia de Leyva, a noble forced to take the religious votes in the Italian convent of Monza, where she becomes mother superior, and of her violent affair with an Italian "Signorotto", after which she gives birth to a girl. He gets killed, she ends up buried alive for more than ten years in a tiny cell. Cruel inner plots, corruption, sex hidden behind the walls between nuns and priests, hysteria and general hypocrisy, not to mention tortures and psychological violence, all make up to a disturbing but effective kind-of prequel to Ken Russell's "The Devils". The story of Virginia de Leyva also inspired a famous chapter of the Italian historical novel "I promessi sposi" by Alessandro Manzoni.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I agree with others who found Visconti's take on the "Monza" story pretentious. My review concerns the butchered version released in dual English-German audio by Alpha Film. It deletes 8 minutes of the original, sanitizing all scenes containing nudity (with the minor exception of a split-second view of a peasant girl's breast in the opening scene). What's left is a dreary melodrama featuring a somewhat wooden portrayal of the villain Gianpaolo Osio (Antonio Sabara) and the endless lamenting of the doomed Sister Virginia (Anne Heywood). The debauched priest, Father Arrigone (Hardy Kruger), also lacks any depth of character - no sense of corruption at all. For a more entertaining retelling of this centuries-old story of scandal and heresy, catch the 1980 Bruno Mattei version, "The True Story of the Nun of Monza" (La vera storia della monaca di Monza) featuring Zora Kerova as the titular nun. And lastly, don't even think about the 2002 "adult" remake, "Die Schwantz-Nonnen von Monza." Yuck!
The Catholic Church is a church of sinners. Every Christian, in fact, is a sinner struggling to become a saint. The Lady of Monza is one such sinner. That's why the movie is riveting, because everyone identifies with the hypocrisy, the cover-ups, and everything understandably expected of in a regimented life as the nunnery. It is a well defined movie. It knows what it is telling about. At the end of the day, the nun is locked up, or rather appears to be entombed, inside what seems to be an ecclesiastical dungeon. This is the redeeming virtue of the movie: Crime must be punished. Never mind if the nun is the Mother Superior. Never mind if she is a lady with connections to the Royal Court of Madrid. The characters are tri-dimensional. Each one prepares his own bed. This, per se, makes the film so irresistibly captivating in its brilliance. Like it or not, this film deserves a flat 10 pure and simple.
I found this film to be pompous hogwash: much more honest and interesting films dealing with the same subject matter have been made by exploitation directors like Jess Franco and Joe D'Amato. Try Franco's The Sex Demons, Joe D'Amato's Images in a Convent, Mingozzi's Flavia the Heretic, or Bruno Mattei's True Story of the Nun of Monza. In fact, Franco, at his best, could run circles around so-called "serious" directors who churned out pretentious "respectable" films such as this one. Skip it and stick with the others I named. And if you like them, you might want to branch out and try some of their other works, such as Franco's Soledad Miranda trilogy.
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