This French historical drama is a mournful, modern-feeling adaptation of a late eighteenth-century Denis Diderot novel about a strong-willed teenage aristocrat, Suzanne (Pauline Etienne), forced to become a nun when her family decide to make her someone else’s responsibility. A welcoming Mother Superior soon becomes a distant memory when the sadistic Christine (Louise Bourgoin) takes charge of the convent and institutes a campaign of physical and mental torture against her wilful charge. When Suzanne is moved to another institution run by the lusty and maybe even demented Saint-Eutrope (Isabelle Huppert), she’s faced with different problems. All the while, she tries to free herself by writing letters to the outside world.
Measured and sensible, ‘The Nun’ lacks the full-on claustrophobic horror of a film like ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ and moves through events at a matter-of-fact distance. But it’s shocking nonetheless, and there’s a pleasing no-frills tone to the whole enterprise as well as a convincing grasp of the rituals and beliefs of the age.