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Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)

Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne (original title)
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... See full summary »

Director:

Jesús Franco (as Jess Franco)

Writers:

Mariana Alcoforado (love letters), Erwin C. Dietrich (as Manfred Gregor) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Susan Hemingway ... Maria Rosalea Coutinho
William Berger ... Father Vicente
Herbert Fux ... Satan
Ana Zanatti Ana Zanatti ... Mother Alma, the Grand Priestess
Aida Vargas Aida Vargas ... Joanna, a Nun (as Aida Kargas)
Vítor Mendes Vítor Mendes ... António Fernando Queiroz de Melo, the Mayor
Aida Gouveia Aida Gouveia ... Antónia, a Nun (as Isa Schneider)
Herman José Herman José ... Manuel Gonçalves, the Prince (as Hermann Krippahl)
José Viana José Viana ... The Grand Inquisitor (as Jose Viana)
Patrícia Leal Patrícia Leal ... Maria's Mother (as Patricia Da Silva)
Victor de Sousa Victor de Sousa ... Inquisitor's Aid
Nicolau Breyner Nicolau Breyner ... Prince's Aid
Clara Marabuto Clara Marabuto ... Josefina, a nun
Esther Studer Esther Studer ... Nun at ritual
Dagmar Bürger Dagmar Bürger ... Nun at ritual
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Storyline

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 Artemis-9

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Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Actress Ana Zanatti did some nude scenes but it was unaware and caught by surprise when, years later, she discovered they used close ups with a body double. See more »

Alternate Versions

The UK cinema certificate was rejected by the BBFC in 1979. It was eventually released on DVD in 2004 after 6 minutes 15 secs of cuts which removed scenes of torture and nudity, as the lead actress was below the age of 18 when the movie was filmed. See more »

Connections

Featured in Peter Baumgartner, Filmkameramann (2014) See more »

User Reviews

LOVE LETTERS OF A Portuguese NUN (Jesus Franco, 1977) ***
17 October 2004 | by Bunuel1976See all my reviews

The first I've seen of the films Jess Franco made for producer Erwin C. Dietrich and, frankly, one of only three or four I'm really interested in (the others being DORIANA GREY [1976], JACK THE RIPPER [1976] and SEXY SISTERS [1977]). Having viewed this immediately after THE DEMONS (1972), I'm thankful it has proven to be a whole lot better, thus living up to its unanimously positive reputation online ever since it was released on DVD; definitely one of Franco's best (currently ranking at No. 7 out of only 18 I've watched so far).

From the very first moments (starting off with a much more fitting 'medieval' score than THE DEMONS' eclectic if messy soundtrack), the film conveys both its seriousness of intent (neither THE BLOODY JUDGE [1970] nor THE DEMONS could be taken as anything but fanciful peeks into this controversial yet intriguing time-frame) and its artistic bent (certainly among Franco's most gorgeous-looking films, evident even in the VHS copy I viewed). The film is very well directed for the most part: stylized but highly effective framing (notably the shot where William Berger is forcing himself onto Susan Hemingway) and positioning of actors (the orgy where Hemingway is again raped, now by Herbert Fux's devil incarnate, while all the time her head is resting on Ana Zanatti's shoulder, who seems to be getting her sexual kicks by proxy!). The nick-of-time ending is effectively handled as well, especially its fading out on the two villains' apprehension – leaving their eventual fate, as it were, to each and every member of the audience!

The acting of the three principals is terrific:

· Susan Hemingway manages both the character's inherent innocence as well as her determination to put a stop to all the evil at the Abbey (I quite liked the fact that when she finally escapes, we are not shown how she achieves this, and also the matter-of-fact yet rather moving way her 'love letters' are eventually picked up) [Brief parenthesis: I look forward to seeing more of her in Franco's SINFONIA EROTICA (1979), paired with the equally scrumptious Lina Romay who, incidentally, appeared in a remake of LOVE LETTERS OF A Portuguese NUN made by Jorge Grau in 1978!]

· William Berger as the sickest priest ever to hit the screen (far more damaging than the befuddled monk played by Jack Palance in MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE [1968]), who immediately demonstrates he is adept at persuading virtually anyone to do his bidding (the calm way he haggles Hemingway's poor and impressionable mother out of her savings at the beginning of the film, for instance, but also the girl herself during a humiliating confession scene that just about manages not to topple over into unnecessary grossness and emerges, in fact, as one of the film's highlights)

· Ana Zanatti, however, matches Berger with her proud (and evidently possessed) Mother Superior-cum-High Priestess, creating what is perhaps one of Franco's most fascinating female villains

What I couldn't quite figure out initially about LOVE LETTERS OF A Portuguese NUN is its apparently schizophrenic nature: while it takes the utmost care in establishing period atmosphere and the mood of specific scenes, and doing so with great subtlety (as in the almost subliminal but potentially repugnant shot where Hemingway's face is hit by a rush of semen), the film then goes overboard with its frequent depiction of sexual activity among the nuns and their unmitigated devotion to Satan (as if the agenda of this so-called Abbey hadn't been made blatant already!). That said, the scene where Zanatti painfully confirms her 'faith' (which reminded me of a similarly excruciating moment in the last of the Hammer horror films, Peter Sykes' contemporaneous TO THE DEVIL…A DAUGHTER [1976]) is well done – as are, in fact, the various tortures to which lovely Susan Hemingway is subjected for her defiance of the 'house' rules. [In any case, Francesco Cesari once again came to the rescue for me, putting the sex scenes in their proper context which is that, in their pursuit to 'demonize' sexuality, the Catholic Church has rendered the Devil a sexual object leading to a general perversion in sexuality – which 'disease' actually sprang from within the convents themselves! Apart from this, Francesco has rightly observed that, before we even get to see how truly evil they are, the characters of Father Vincent and Mother Alma are themselves depicted in the film as wretched human beings – indicating, in this way, that they are as much victims of this same culture as anyone else!]

I wouldn't mind buying the film on DVD (in view of the proper Widescreen ratio and VIP's restoration efforts) though the price-tag of the Swiss DVD is set rather too highly for my tastes; I only hope, therefore, that Anchor Bay UK (a DVD is planned for a February 2004 release) can pull this one intact from under the BBFC's scrutiny…

Much as Franco's THE BLOODY JUDGE was made in the wake of the classic WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), his THE DEMONS and LOVE LETTERS OF A Portuguese NUN emerged from the relative success and eventual cult-status of Ken Russell's original 'nunsploitation' epic THE DEVILS (1971); I wouldn't say that Franco necessarily did a better job of it but, thankfully, his efforts did not prove so hysterical as Russell's either! (Actually, watching these two films has reminded me that I've yet to pick up Walerian Borowczyk's similar BEHIND CONVENT WALLS (1977) on R2 DVD from Nouveaux Pictures.)

P.S. The film's 'message' is still timely, especially since here in Malta a sex-scandal was recently unearthed involving priests' abusing of their young male charges(!); incidentally, the religious order involved is affiliated with the Secondary school which my brother and I attended between 1987 and 1992 – come to think of it, once we even spent a whole week-end at their convent!!


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Details

Language:

German

Release Date:

10 March 1977 (West Germany) See more »

Also Known As:

Love Letters from a Portuguese Nun See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

(DVD) | (director's cut)

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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