Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Portuguese Nun

The serene apparition that is Julie de Hauranne.
This is Eugene Green’s first feature film to be distributed in the UK and based on the evidence I sincerely hope its not his last. This American-born naturalized French filmmaker, writer and actor has his own style but does bring to mind the Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu.

Parisian actress Julie de Hauranne, who has a Portuguese mother and a French father, arrives in Lisbon to finish filming a version of Comte de Guillerague’s 17th century book of letters written by a nun in love with a French officer who abandoned her. After booking in at her hotel she goes for an explorative walk around the picturesque city where she meets the six-year-old unschooled orphan Vasco who is being raised by Madalena and her family. She also meets an impoverished noble man and arranges to have dinner with him the following night. The pair returns to the chapel that Julie had visited on her first evening and again observes a nun praying, apparently Sister Joana prays there every nightfall. After this spiritual encounter the middle aged nobleman takes her to his lonely apartment and by candle light shows her around, during which he tells her that her presence that evening has stopped him committing suicide. The following day she meets her fellow actor Martin Dautand. Following a meal they agree to make love; Martin leaves Lisbon the next morning. Going back to the chapel for the third time Julie faints and when she awakes she speaks to the nun for the first time. The nun informs her there is only one love, Julie replies by telling Sister Joana that she has been searching for it always, but remains a prisoner of the world! Continuing there conversation they discuss if love should be flesh and blood or can it be only truly be appreciated if you seek simply incarnate love, in fact to love no one except God and loving him until we no longer exist.  Following her personal encounter with this devout woman of God Julie decides to return to Madalena and arranges for Vasco to accompany her to Paris for adoption and be sent to school.

The devout Sister Joanna.

The Portuguese Nun (2009) is one of the most beautifully haunting art house movies I have had the privilege to see of late. Slow and deliberate, a film that’s never in a hurry to reveal its rather intricate narrative timeline. We have a riveting performance from Leonor Baldaque who performs the part of Julie de Hauranne like a delicate serene apparition that could fragment at any moment. Like most of the characters in the movie, including Eugene Green who plays the part of Denis Verde the on screen director, Julie is a rather a sad and lonely person, the story generally only allowing for fleeting relationships.

Lisbon by night.

Lisbon by day.

The film raised many question for this viewer. One of which is to do with the conversation Sister Joana has with Julie, something Fassbinder raises frequently in his movie’s, is it only death that gives us the freedom and the peace most of us crave? The other question is simply, are the two woman the same person?

The film is complemented by a wonderful Fado soundtrack.

Gorgeously photographed on location in Portugal by its director of photography Raphael O’Byrne using a static camera and long and short focus to great effect. Green also seems to favour off camera conversations leaving us to mull over the atmospheric magnificence that is Lisbon. Its superb Portuguese Fado soundtrack is a bonus for a film that should have been more widely shown. Don’t let this divine movie slip through your net!!!!!

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