Thursday, August 9, 2012
Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)
I once read that according to the Catholic church the two most dangerous filmmakers during the seventies was Pier Paolo Pasolini and Jesus Franco. While I personally think Pasolini had a lot of Catholic guilt to deal with, Franco on the other hand never had any problem with bashing religion and hypocrisy of all kinds. This is very visible in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, another movie produced by the notorious Erwin C. Dietrich. Movie geeks who claims Franco is ha hack and never made a good movie has obviously not seen so many of his movies, and if they have it's Oasis of the Zombies, Devil Hunter, Mansion of the Living Dead or something even more trashy and easy-to-find. They're too lazy to go any further into his huge body of work. That's a pity, because here we have another excellent and edgy production!
14 years old Maria (played by 17 years old Susan Hemingway) gets caught fooling around (very innocently) with a boy by Father Vicente (William Berger). He brings her home to her mother and uses his best Christian manipulation to send Maria to a convent, lead by the sinister Mother Alma (Ana Zanatti). Maria is soon punished for being completely human and natural and Father Vicente starts to abuse her sexually while Mother Alma uses her in satanic rites! Maria just wants to get away from there, but her newfound love for god makes it even harder to leave the, by god blessed, sadism and torture!
Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is a point blank fuck you to organized religion and abuse of power. It feels even more fresh today with the tons and tons of sexual abuse being uncovered inside the Catholic church, and while this one deals with satanic rites and more visual terror a lot of what's said from the religious representatives in this movie is eerily similar to what we've heard during recent year from PR-people at the
This is also a gorgeous movie. Franco had a lot of fantastic exteriors and interiors to use and he uses them well. I've seen more expensive productions look less interesting and more flat than this one. For those who don't like Franco's trademark (and I would say very important trademark) use of zoom will be happy here, because it's shot in very conventional way, still beautiful, but also very calm and without apparent stress. Like many of Franco's films the cast is the most important thing and I think he has one of his strongest casts ever in this film.
First of all, William Berger is brilliant. He plays probably the most disgusting priest I've ever seen in a movie, mostly because he's a hypocrite and uses his power to get money and other things from poor citizens (just like the church to do today, to support their fancy buildings and huge paychecks) but also his sexual appetite for young girls. The scene where he cums in the confession booth while hearing Maria talk about her wet dreams is both extremely funny in a very dark way, but also sick and disturbed. Susan Hemingway, who looks way younger than she was, makes a fine performance as the frail and innocent Maria - who ironically gets corrupted by the church and not the boy she's in love with. Ana Zanatti balances the religious angest with pure sadism and coldness like no one else.
This is yet another fine production from Jess Franco and I urge you all to give it a try!