The Nun (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner31/10/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

With impressive production design and a strong script, this is an engaging, well made French period drama anchored by a superb performance from Pauline Etienne, though the tone wobbles in the final act and the ending is curiously abrupt.

What's it all about?
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux, The Nun is based on the 18th century novel by Denis Diderot and stars Pauline Etienne as 16 year-old aristocrat Suzanne Simonin, who has a brief stint in a convent and decides it's not for her, despite her religious beliefs. However, when she comes out, her mother (Martina Gedeck) informs her that she's the bastard child of a short-lived love affair and that she has to stay in the convent to alleviate the sins of the family, who are essentially disowning her.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the kindly Mother Superior (Francois Lebrun) dies in mysterious circumstances and is replaced by Sister Christine (Louise Bourgoin), a sadistic and cruel woman who delights in inflicting a number of horrific tortures upon Suzanne, both physical and mental. In desperation, Suzanne steals writing materials (something that incurs one of her worst punishments) and attempts to get letters to the outside world, as well as penning the memoir that frames the narrative.

The Good
Pauline Etienne is superb as the strong-willed Suzanne and her expressive, wide-eyed face is heart-breaking to watch as she undergoes her various indignities (in one horrific scene, Sister Christine orders Suzanne to lie on a stone staircase while the other nuns trample her). The supporting cast are equally good, particularly a cast-against-type Louise Bourgoin (from Adele Blanc-Sec), who's genuinely chilling as Sister Christine, while Isabelle Huppert is a lot of fun as lusty Sister Saint-Eutrope, a Mother Superior in a different nunnery who becomes obsessed with Suzanne after she escapes Sister Christine’s clutches.

The film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Yves Cape's crisp camerawork and the production design is excellent, particularly Anais Romand's period costumes. In addition, rather than going for outright melodrama and high emotion, the script has a matter-of-fact quality to it that is deeply unsettling and there are a number of terrific sequences, such as a compellingly awkward scene when Suzanne finds herself unable to take her vows.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is that the tone wobbles a little in the final act, as the shift from the horror of Suzanne's ordeal with Sister Christine to the lusty comedy of her situation with Sister Saint-Eutrope is too jarring. Similarly, the ending of the film is curiously abrupt and feels disappointingly anti-climactic as a result.

Worth seeing?
The Nun is a watchable and well made French period drama with stunning production design work and a superb central performance from Pauline Etienne. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 17/10/2017 19:36

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