first saw The Portuguese Nun, and briefly
reviewed it for Talking Pictures, at the 2009
London Film Festival. I saw it again
on its (extremely limited) UK release in 2011,
and have now bought the DVD.
More than most other films, it has increasingly
grown on me, and I would strongly recommend it
to anyone who loves both "slow cinema" and
Julie (Leonor Baldaque) is a French actress
staying in Lisbon to star in a film called The
Portuguese Nun (A Religiosa Portuguesa) based on
the 17th century novel Love Letters of a
Portuguese Nun. The director of the
film-within-a-film is played by Eugene Green,
the USA-born real-life director.
This self-reflexivity has distinguished
antecedents, such as Singin' in the Rain,
Godard's Le Mepris, and Fellini's Eight and a
Julie spends much of her time wandering the
streets of Lisbon, encountering various
characters including a young boy, his adoptive
aunt, a man whom Julie thinks is a reincarnation
of a long-dead king, and a real-life nun.
She frequently comments that she would like to
be somewhere else, and even somebody else, a
theme repeated in the several beautiful songs we
hear performed by fado singers. It is her
encounter with the nun, in an intense 10-minute
nighttime conversation, which finally determines
Julie on who and where she wants to be.
What will strike every viewer is the acting
style, extremely mannered, deliberate, slow,
spoken mostly straight to camera. It
reminded me of the films of Ozu, and
particularly of late Dreyer, and I was
interested to read that Eugene Green's favourite
ten films include Ozu's The End of Summer and
Dreyer's Gertrud (Sight and Sound's 2012 best
films poll). The film's opening
minutes consist of a very slow pan over the
Lisbon cityscape. Many find this style
off-putting, but it perfectly suits the lazy
atmosphere of the city. The cinematography
is stunning, amazing visual effects being
achieved in, for example, the close-ups of Julie
listening to the female fado singer.
Apart from a trailer the DVD is lacking in
extras, surprisingly in view of the interviews
which Eugene Green has given about his
film. That reservation aside, I strongly
recommend this film to any fan of "slow cinema"
or of Lisbon and its music.