The Nun's Story
Reviewed in April 2010
Director: Fred Zinnemann. Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Peter Finch, Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Mildred Dunnock, Dean Jagger, Dorothy Alison, Errol John, Ruth White, Patricia Collinge, Patricia Bosworth, Margaret Phillips, Beatrice Straight, Eva Kotthaus, Colleen Dewhurst, Stephen Murray, Orlando Martins, Frank Singuineau, Diana Lambert, Lionel Jeffries, Niall MacGinnis, Ave Ninchi, Barbara O'Neil. Screenplay: Robert Anderson (based on the book by Kathryn C. Hulme).

Photo © 1959 Warner Bros. Pictures
Symmetrical dames (Edith, Ashcroft); "Technicolor" its own one-word credit; Italy, Belgium, Congo; Cinecitta interiors; rather thunderous, almost severe score; v.o. He that shall lose his life for me shall find it; trying to put on hat without mirror to get used to -; MDunnock shuts door absolutely on family and everything, palette; she's Belgian; exterior and interior silence; Dr father; quiet chapel with loud, heavy locks; 1456; 1518; sign language whenever possible, to preserve inner dialogue w God; MD: "We never touch another sister, of course... each sister is alert to the needs of her fellow sisters"; humility by walking close to walls; 2058; EE still Laughton-ish; EE: "In a way it is a life against nature"; "a state of constant alertness against imperfections" (FZ, too!); EE sprung from total imperiousness; "Twice each day for the rest of your lives, you will examine your consciousness" (journals to regulate their own infractions)): hollow, metalic echo of internal self-accusations; EE: "first become a good nun"; "Now we have the difficult detachment from things, and memories"; "free will" denunciation of objects from past life; mostly b&w for novitiate scenes; elegant light, palette, blocking, and framing; even some cam movements; getting a LEETLE snow in service; 3259 in mirror; AH's family absorbing all this protocol and spectacle; nuns have to ask God's help in avoiding attachment to each other; Dr Goovaerts fesses to losing memory to quinine; today's Congo has nothing to do with that of the 30s; attests to 5 mos' difficulty with Sister Pauline, who finds her full of pride; "fail your examination to show humility" instructed by RW - ooh, Waxman don't like that!; FZ nicely stays in long shot as AH reacts to examiner's promise to call father; still in something like long shot as she blanks on 1st question (examiners' POV); blanket sanatorium instruction: "everything gthey do is to be accepted as normal" (BS?); zoom back from chickenwire mesh in CD's small window; 8-10 hrs on tub duty; blast of sound as they open door to tub room - all you hear from other side is heels banging on tubs!; severity of the news on paper: You will be S Marie's asst here; imagine how HOT they are in those habits in the tub room; diss from S Marie to green grounds; BS: "Your father's a very great man..." (: God); CD : Judy Davis post-bender; violence of black whimple pulled from AH's face, scratched face, staccato strings; BS: You must learn to bend a little or you'll break (10617/27); There is no resting place, ever; "...until death" x to ambivalent Jagger; off to Congo 1h8; shock of pre-WW2 ship; shaking confetti from whimple; light changes in Congo, white against white habits; "The Novice" wild dog, petted by AH; astonishing burst of rich color, subtly handheld camera with Congolese; "You will be assisting Dr Fortunati here; he is a genius, and a devil"; PA warns AH against rakish PF, a non-believer! - ooh some conflict!; PF, Australian for once!, enjoying ladling the sun of pride all over her, esp aft saving Andre's leg; dark, low organ in leper colony - real lepers; Father Vermeuhlen has leprosy!; something that looks like carrot juice in lab beaker; orange returns in prairie oyster for TB cure - loud violation of nunny color scheme; Aurelie about Illunga: "I would give anything if I could convert him" (wood statue); WHOA! building boy beats Aurelie to death with real violence - stick in infirmary; "if he killed a white woman, he'd be rid of the ghost of his dead wife"; Illunga wants to cut murderer's body for fish bait!: Illunga actually shows, minus witch doctor fetish, for Xmas mass Adeste Fideles; statues 15721; departing train literally pulls her into drabber colors at 2h2; CU 20214; rain-swept church edifice; EE decides she needs to learn humility again by sitting on her damn ass and "enjoying being home" again; "You look thin, Gabby"; AH: "How are YOU, in there?" / DJ: "Still very lonely, for you"; clunky PF vo, obvious in desolate high-angle of AH languishing, bored; "of course, I've not fallen in love with him" - this woudl be a great shot if they just SHUT UP and insisted on holding it; talk of war in the Congo!; EE has been expecting AH's discontent; "spirit of charity for all, even the enemies of our country"; interesting how THIS gets her back in the OR; sisters urged not even to resist the Occupation! - could've made this war sequence more interesting, but then you get a miniseries; war gives AH the alibi to break her obedience vows, esp aft epistolary from bro that father machine-gunned by Germans while tending the sick; keeps being roadblocked but threatens to leave without permission (from EE); three papers to sign to leave order; love the cinematography; the stained red desk as she absorbs her departure from orders (anything to stab away at black/white, great reason to shoot in color!); picking up some grey in hair as she finally removes whimple; looks frail and malnourished, not galvanized by her decision; harsh loudness of door opening - the film isn't totally comfortable with this!

A U D R E Y     H E P B U R N
Beaming on the European bridge; wedding ring off, no makeup, "return to Jean"; something lovely but eerie about her prim renunciation; I'll do my best, I want you to be proud of me / DJ: I don't want to be proud of you, I want you to be happy / AH, very low but earnest tones: I am happy; hands still & out of sight (Collinge educating); 1402 CU; something uneasy about AH's first prayer (MD dwelling on her); Latin morning prayer, after springing out of bed; hustles around corner, but doesn't overplay gaffe; during EE's warnings about difficult sacrifice, AH already looks serenely uncertain if she's doing well, or will keep doing so; AH: "I accuse myeslf..." - can't finish; 2602; tallest nun here?; each new haircut fetching!; old women in hospital ward: "You make a BEAUTIFUL nun"; bowing 3926; "having spilled milk twice in the refectory"; her NOT failing in "charity, humility, and obedience" actually makes the perf more interesting, b/c she looks so serious about it; permits herself a "Why" to the friend who leaves; nice to see a role capitalize on her astringency; her gift for poise helps here, too; she can make fine-tuned judgments between leprosy bacillus and other varieties; creepy urgency of emotion in a whimple - when she's resisting failing her test; she's almost gagging on her erroneous answers before she makes them, but she WANTS to be humble; breaking out in perspiration - the right answers taste bad in her mouth; humbled instead by being sent to Brussels sanatorium; quick fadeout on minuscule smile at passing 4th out of 80; subtly affronted by distortd refl in mirror; good at mental debate re: CD's request for water; "I accuse myself of using personal judgment..."; sweating again on forehead after news of PF's character flaws; PF keeps taunting her for pride; "I won't faint, Dr, if you promise not to eat garlic again the night before an operation" snap!; Smirking at Emil for not understanding that her "husband" is God - ?; uh-oh, she's getting brown under the eyes; screams when breaks & spills beaker; PF adds insult to injury with ironic reprimand; she's got TB; PF's frank dispatch: "You're never wrong, but let's hope you are this time"; perspiration resignified; disappointed she's not sicker?; PF: "Your what's called a worldly nun... you'll never be the kind of nun your convent expects you to be"; slippery slope of seeing her LAUGH - what are we rooting for?; peevish and bitter even as she "understands" PF sending her away with Engelbert to Belgium; "You must have had a good doctor" / a flavorful "exccceptional" - God or PF?; remembers fish bait convo and teaching of forgiveness; lachrymose "Oh, father" out the black window, against which she herself disappears, a few gratuitous scherzes; "Father, I no longer belong in the convent - I am a hypocrite in the religious life"; Diagonal L profile: "Father, please lay my faith before the cardinal; I am no longer a nun"; 21847; v. definite re: "You can CHEAT your sisters (then) but you cannot cheat yourself"; resents five bells when nursing duty calls her to hear final words of bed- ridden men; EE: "Won't you make one more effort for God, and for me, as his instrument?"; quick zoom back from AH after EE sails off; "Sister, is there nothing we can do?" / "Nothing" only ghostly earnest voice, since we can't see her face; wonderfully thorough characterization!; soft, tentative move outward into grey brick st, almost silent shot, very subtle, faraway street noise, 23114 B+

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Picture
Best Director: Fred Zinnemann
Best Actress: Audrey Hepburn
Best Adapted Screenplay: Robert Anderson
Best Cinematography (Color): Franz Planer
Best Film Editing: Walter Thompson
Best Original Score (Comedy/Drama): Franz Waxman
Best Sound: George Groves

Golden Globe Nominations and Winners:
Best Picture (Drama)
Best Director: Fred Zinnemann
Best Actress (Drama): Audrey Hepburn
Best Supporting Actress: Edith Evans
Best Film Promoting International Understanding
Special Award for Outstanding Merit

Other Awards:
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Director; Best Actress (Hepburn)
National Board of Review: Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actress (Evans)
British Academy Awards (BAFTAs): Best British Actress (Hepburn)

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