The Portuguese Nun

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The Portuguese Nun

Stripped-down doesn't begin to describe the films of Eugne Green, an American expat based in France who's fashioned a minimalist style bordering on the monastic. Actors recite dialogue in an inhumanly affectless manner; characters have a tendency to talk---and talk, and talk---while simply staring straight into the camera. (His medieval "period piece," 2003's Le monde vivant, makes Eric Rohmer's dialed-down historical pageants seem positively DeMillean.) Yet even those that have acquired a taste for Green's rigorous, super-ascetic aesthetic may find this French drama about a starlet (Baldaque) to be almost as bare as it is spare.

Granted, the auteur hasn't lost his puckish sense of humor: When our Gallic heroine tells a hotel clerk that she's in Lisbon to play a lovelorn nun, the man replies, "I never see French films. They're for intellectuals." [Cue deader-than-deadpan rimshot.] But once singers serenade her in cafs and she falls under the sway of cute children and handsome locals, it's tough to tell whether the film is sending up touristy travelogues or inadvertently succumbing to their clichs. And after Green, who claims the movie was inspired by the 17th-century religious novel Letters from a Portuguese Nun, introduces the titular sister (Moreira) as a muse, the philosophical conversations take on a more ponderous tone than usual. Green is undoubtedly a major filmmaker; this is undeniably a minor work.

 

By: David Fear

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