Saturday, December 11, 2010

TOP 300 MOVIES OF ALL TIME: #287-THE NUN'S STORY (1959)

Directed by Fred Zinneman, "The Nun's Story" is one of the most underrated and overlooked movies of all time. Any film dealing with nuns in the lead were either larky characters like Celeste Holm in "Come To the Stable", or stern like Deborah Kerr in "Black Narcissus".

Audrey Hepburn is well removed from her barely legal character in "Roman Holiday" for which she won an Oscar. Her performance in this as a young woman entering a convent in her native country of Belgium can fairly be regarded as her greatest role and performance.

This film about the life of a religious is genuinely complex in its human interest. She struggles with the rigidity in the life, but remains obedient. Audrey's life takes a positive, but unexpected turn. She is sent to the Congo to work as a nurse in a field hospital. It is in the Congo that she works side by side with the resident doctor, played by Peter Finch.

Peter Finch questions her fidelity to the life she lives and there is clear sexual tension. In a great example of the film's maturity, she remains true to her vows. The hospital work, however does give her freedom and the interaction gives her a real glimpse at how she can help those beyond the walls of a cloister.

Audrey Hepburn, though loving her time helping those in need and clearly fulfilled by the experience is returned to Belgium. It is back in her homeland and the rigors of convent life that conflict with a new world view, inherited from her tenure in the heart of Africa.

Her return to home is shortly thereafter challenged by the Nazi invasion and occupation. Wanting to help her countrymen, she faces a crisis of conscience. She must choose a sequestered life or an active life resisting the wave the has consumed her friends and family on the outside.

Dean Jagger, sympathetically plays her father, who gives her pause before she gives herself to the order. Edith Evans and Peggy Ashcroft play mother superiors respectively in Belgiun and the Congo.

This great story does something rare. It provides an honest, mature appraisal of a religious life, it is real, but lacks the cynicism that often pervades films about religion. This is a movie that stays with you. This really is one to watch.

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