Grav­i­tate to the bril­liant Novi­tiate

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE | ENTERTAINMENT - James Croot Doubt, Brides of Christ Hand­maid’s Tale, (Frozen River’s Au­gust: Osage County’s Glee’s (The Leftovers’ Hand­maid’s The – James Croot

Fand even should check out one of the most un­der-rated movies of 2017. Novi­tiate (M, just re­leased on DVD and stream­ing on YouTube, Google Play and iTunes) de­buted at last year’s Sun­dance In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, but de­spite great re­views and a rea­son­able Amer­i­can re­lease, not only by­passed cinemas, but also the New Zealand Film Fes­ti­val.

That’s a cry­ing shame be­cause it not only boasts an ex­cel­lent cast Melissa Leo, Ju­lianne Ni­chol­son and Dianna Agron), but sheds light on one of the Catholic church’s most con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions of the 20th cen­tury.

The work of the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil in the 1960s mod­ernised many of the church’s prac­tices but it also re­duced the sta­tus of nuns. No longer could they con­sider them­selves closer to God than reg­u­lar parish­ioners.

Writer-di­rec­tor Mar­garet Betts’ com­pelling de­but fea­ture looks at the ef­fects of that de­ci­sion through the eyes of the in­hab­i­tants of a sin­gle con­vent in ru­ral Ten­nessee. In par­tic­u­lar, it fo­cuses on two women at op­po­site ends of their life, which they in­tend to spend ded­i­cated to a higher power.

Af­ter see­ing her own mother’s (Ni­chol­son) strug­gles to find and keep love, young Cath­leen Har­ris Mar­garet Qual­ley) de­cides to en­rol in a Catholic girls’ school and then take up a po­si­tion as a pos­tu­lant at the Sis­ters of the Beloved Rose (the Novi­tiate of the ti­tle is the fol­low­ing stage of her jour­ney to­wards be­com­ing a fully-fledged and habited nun).

It’s there she en­coun­ters the tough, un­com­pro­mis­ing Mother Su­pe­rior Marie Sain­tClair (Leo), whose weekly ‘‘Chap­ter of Faults’’ and ‘‘Dis­ci­pline’’ ri­val any­thing Aunt Ly­dia could cook up. But while Cath­leen strug­gles with her own de­sires and such strict teach­ings, Marie Saint-Clair is forced to face up to change that threat­ens the very core of her ex­is­tence.

Thought-pro­vok­ing, rage-in­duc­ing and timely in the wake of the so­ci­etal de­bates of the past year, Betts’ clev­erly-crafted drama will have you shift­ing sym­pa­thies as it pro­gresses to its heartwrench­ing con­clu­sion.

Much of the credit for that goes to Leo, who trans­forms what could have been a shrill and oned­i­men­sional vil­lain into one of the most memorable char­ac­ters on screen this year. ans of

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