Gravitate to the brilliant Novitiate
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