“Hot lesbo nun action” is a tawdry headline, but it’s definitely an accurate description of portions of Margaret Betts‘ Novitiate, which screened at Park City’s Eccles theatre earlier today. I’m not saying Noivitiate is mostly or even partly an erotic thing (the real hot-nun Sundance flick is Jeff Baena‘s The Little Hours), but a certain scene during the final third…yowsah!
Novitiate is basically about various repressions (mostly spiritual) visited on a group of young women who’ve committed to be nuns-in-training, or novitiates. It’s mostly set in 1964, which is when various Vatican-led reforms, known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, were being implemented.
But don’t trust the The Sundance program notes, to wit: “This coming-of-age story is about a young girl’s first love. In this case, her first love is God.” The key term in this previous sentence isn’t “God” but “first love.”
Right off the top you’re going “hmmm, possibly an austere Robert Bresson-like film about the denials, devotions and disciplines of the life of a young would-be nun.”
The young protagonist is Cathleen (Margaret Qualley, 22 year-old daughter of Andie McDowell), and over the course of this 123-minute film “her faith is challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a nun,” etc. But sure enough, the old repressed-libido thing eventually kicks in and when it does, the axiom about “the stronger the constraints, the hotter the eroticism” comes to mind. I was sitting there watching a film about a nunnery, but the concept of “wood”…sorry.
I mentioned Bresson because Novitiate contains slight echoes of his passions and obsessions. He was not just a cinematic minimalist but a religious man of a conservative bent. He knew from austerity, spirituality and holding it in (i.e., Diary of a Country Priest). Except Bresson always cast his films with extremely good-looking, model-pretty actors and actresses. Sex never happened in his films, but it was certainly intimated in the features of his youthful players.
Here’s the thing — almost all the young women playing nuns in Novitiate are serious hotties. Qualley, Diana Agron, Liana Liberato, Morgan Saylor (White Girl), Maddie Hasson, Eline Powell — they’re all knockouts, and when was the last time you ran into even a half-hot nun or seen a picture of one?
Answer: Almost never. Retired actress Dolores Hart, who was quite attractive when young, is the only nun I’ve heard or read about who stands out in this regard. The actress who played a novitiate in Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida — Agata Trzebuchowska — was beautiful, of course, but that was a movie.
Novitiate is a reasonably well done thing, a little eccentric, a little Sundance-y but not half bad. The strongest supporting performances are from Melissa Leo as Reverend Mother (basically doing the same kind of thing that Meryl Streep did in Doubt, only with a heavier hand), Julianne Nicholson as Qualley’s skeptical, non-religious mom, and Denis O’Hare as an Archbishop pressuring Leo into adopting Vatican II’s more liberal “suggestions” about how to run things.