Saturday, 15 September 2007

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)

Jess Franco’s Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne) tells the story of a young woman, Maria Rosalea, in 17th century sent to a convent against her will. She soon discovers that these nuns have dedicated themselves to serving Satan rather than God, and they have plans to sacrifice her chastity to the Evil One. Anyone who regards Jess Franco as a technically incompetent film-maker really need to see this movie. It’s not just a well made film, it’s a beautifully made film. For once Franco has a decent budget to work with, and the results are ravishing. The movie avoids the creepy cobwebs-and-ruins gothic look of so much 60s European gothic horror - this is a movie of gorgeous architecture bathed in brilliant sunshine, and sumptuous-looking sets, which makes the events seem all the more horrific. The movie visits the same sorts of territory as Ken Russell’s 1971 masterpiece The Devils, with religious hysteria and sexual repression leading to inevitably ghastly results. Compared to The Devils it’s quite restrained, although admittedly the DVD version has been rather savagely cut. Franco makes his point efficiently and economically. The film benefits from some very fine acting. William Berger as the sexually depraved priest who acts as confessor to the nuns and Ana Zanatti as the Mother Superior are exceptionally good, but it’s Susan Hemingway as the young Maria Rosalea who walks off with the acting honours. She gives a powerful and moving performance. There’s no scenery-chewing in this picture – the actors play it straight and they have the acting chops to carry it off.

The Anchor Bay DVD release looks absolutely marvellous. The colours are glorious, and there are really no problems at all with the picture quality. This is Franco in a serious mood, and it’s a disturbing and effective movie. It’s a treat for all serious Franco-philes, and indeed for all serious horror fans. And of course it’s a must for everyone who loves movies about devil-worshipping nuns - and let’s face it, who doesn’t?

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