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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Film review - The Nun

Director: Guillaume Nicloux, France/Germany/Belgium

This classic novel from the philosopher, art critic and writer Diderot made such an impression on director Guillaume Nicloux as a teenager that he now, as an adult, had to make this film.  The Nun, which has the same title as the book, is set in the 1760s in France where Suzanne Simonin (Pauline Eteinne) has been forced into a convent school for what she believes is the chosen path of a family who can’t afford a dowry for her marriage. Although she is quite musically talented and the convent covets her voice, they are not sure what to make of her erratic behavior when it comes to her taking her vows and joining their order. 

In the Berlinale press conference Nicloux explained that he, too, as a young boy, had a religious education and had thought about entering the seminary. He said that when he turned thirteen his ideas changed and that was about the time that he read this book. It had a profound effect on him during this rebellious phase in his life. He wanted not to promote Diderot’s anti-clerical image but wanted to look at the essence of the text which is an ode to freedom. Suzanne tries to find herself in the setting, but feels that God has a different path for her than being one of his chosen daughters. The film focuses on a loving and consoling mother superior, to a sadistic nun to finally one with lesbian tendencies, all causing Suzanne to strive harder to find a way out.

Nicloux gives us a rich and lush view of the time period including fantastic costumes and wonderful actors and actresses. He even shows us the grim and strange psychological profiles of life which exist inside the convent walls. Unfortunately, the path to freedom which he wanted to suggest was a little too vague. He tried to toy with Diderot’s philosophic work which saw the convent with other eyes. Unfortunately, we, the audience, are not convinced with Susanne’s flight to a new personal freedom since she only gains it through a male hero who has come to her rescue. But what comes next? Does she really gain her freedom? This unanswered question leaves us with an anti-climatic sigh. Too bad…this film started off so well. (Shelly S.)

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