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16-year-old Maria is forced into Serra D'Aires convent, secretly run by Satanists. Her confessor is in collusion with the Mother Superior. Maria is tortured, forced into sex with men, women, and the horned Devil, and told that it's all a bad dream. She writes a letter to God, and a Knight rescues her, only to fall into the hands of the Inquisition, put on the rack, and condemned to death like Joan of Arc. Written by
The film was complete in 1975, but it went through a number of censorship bans (the first on 3 March 1976), appeals, rejections, and editing for release in different markets in 1977 and 1978. See more »
Jesus Franco's dark yet artistic sexploitation movie concerns Maria Rosalea (Susan Hemmingway), a fifteen year old girl, who is caught cavorting with her boyfriend by the devilish Father Vicente (William Berger). Vicente convinces Maria's poor and easily intimidated, God-fearing mother (Aida Vargas) to force Maria into a convent. Upon arriving at the convent Maria is subjected to numerous vile and sadistic sexual tortures, and it becomes increasingly clear that it is not God that these particular nuns worship.
It is fairly easy to speculate whether 'Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun' is a film with a message or not. It would appear to be a film damning the historical atrocities of the Catholic Church, and while perhaps over exaggerating the real truth (though one may never know for sure), the portrayal of how the Catholic Church abused it's power, particularly during the 16th-19th centuries, seems to be effectively represented here. In fact, to this very day, there is still news making the headlines about the darker side of religion, including the vile sexual abuse that is often covered up the Church itself and carried out by those who are supposed to spread the word of God. While not meaning to sound anti-religious, 'Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun' is a film that is not afraid to push the boundaries of acceptability all the way and condemn the wrong doings in the Church. Bordering on illegal, with frequent horrific representations of a fifteen year old girl naked and/or suffering, what can only be described as sadistic sexual abuse, 'Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun' is a gloomy, yet surprisingly powerful, artistic and thought-provoking film.
Although the scripting occasionally left a lot to be desired, particularly in the scenes involving the Prince of Portugal (Herman Jose), generally the script was very tight, and the dialogue enormously effective. It becomes very easy to empathise with Maria as she suffers the numerous horrid indignities. While I am unable to comment on the verbal acting ability of Susan Hemmingway in this film (as I watched the film with English dubbing), the physical performance of Susan was highly realistic and there is little way that one cannot feel sympathy for this poor, young girl. William Berger's physical performance was also of a high standard and it becomes very easy to feel contempt for this sleazy and perverted man. The confessional masturbation scene early in the movie showed exactly how depraved and corrupt this so-called `good man' was. Berger was also complimented by the addition of Ana Zanatti in the role of Mother Superior, Alma. Zanatti added a loathsome female character which seemingly exhibited more savagery than the despicable Vicente.
Although some may find the occasional scenes of lesbianism portrayed within the movie more titillating than necessary, they still maintain an artistic air and help create an image, for the viewer, of the real actions within the convent. There are numerous scenes of nudity and sexual acts, but the majority of these are more repulsive than erotic. Outside of the eroticism/sexual deviances, 'Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun' is generally aesthetically pleasing as it was shot in some beautiful locations, and featured many scenes of glorious gothic architecture. An early comment on how beautiful the Abbey featured in 'Love Letters.' rings so true, and serves to underline the ignorance to the truth that both the church, and the village as a whole possesses. This imaginative and artistically presented film is certainly worth viewing for fans of similar movies, particularly those who enjoy European arthouse eroticism. My rating for 'Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun' - 7/10.
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