In 1930, in Belgium, Gabrielle van der Mal is the stubborn daughter of the prominent surgeon Dr. Hubert 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
The film features a whopping nine past and future Oscar nominees for acting -- Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Dean Jagger, Mildred Dunnock, Beatrice Straight, Patricia Collinge, and Barbara O'Neil. 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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How to be your best, your very best...a lush, vivid, inward looking masterpiece
The Nun's Story (1959)
I knew I would enjoy at least Audrey Hepburn, and she's fabulous. But the movie came on as a Christmas Day feature and I worried that it would have too many religious overtones. Then as the credits rolled I saw it was directed by Fred Zinnemann. Zinnemann? I wondered what would draw him to this kind of story. My expectations tripled.
I was not disappointed. This is a measured but never slow movie. It's totally beautiful, it handles the sanctity of the convent with respect, never tipping into sappy adoration. Hepburn is what you want from her, lively and independent, and this is a natural conflict in a world of discipline and loss of independence. And it's also an evolving, changing story with a couple of major twists as it goes. By the end you see very much why Zinnemann wanted to do this and I can't tell you that. See for yourself.
The conflict between self and community, between having your own opinion about something and being forced to follow a larger set of rules that might not always be best, is the core of the film. When do you rebel? When do you submit? And if you have agreed beforehand to devote your life to submission, do circumstances allow an exception? A total change of heart?
If you think this sounds boring it is not. You might give Hepburn the biggest credit here--she's a natural and you are nothing but sympathetic--but the directing the cinematography are huge, as well. Behind the camera is Franz Planar, who did such trifles as "Holiday" and "Letter from an Unknown Woman" as well as two Audrey Hepburn movies "Roman Holiday" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's." If you have seen any of these (or all) you'll know how really perfectly they are filmed, with the camera in service to the story.
The story, by the say, in "The Nun's Story" is very much the point, even beyond the moral. When does a young woman leave a loving and comfortable home and join a convent, face a loss of self and freedom, and yet still feel useful to the world? Hepburn's character (who changes names, in part of the effort to leave the past behind), wants to go to Africa to serve the needy. How this is thwarted--or not--you'll see, but you really root for her. You see her brush against her principles in every way. And you see a larger principle arise--do the right thing. And she does. It's beautiful. It ought to make you cry. It will easily engage and move you.
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