Thursday, November 29, 2012

WINTER OF DISCONTENT: The Nun and the Devil

When the Mother Superior at the convent of Sant’Archangelo pegs it, the Roman Catholic equivalent of a bitch-fight kicks off as various parties vie for vacancy. The elderly Lavinia (Maria Cumani Quasimodo … yes, really) uses her age to pull rank and pretty much appoints herself Acting Mother Superior. Sister Carmela (Claudia Gravy … again, genuine surname) covets the position as lustfully as she covets the body of Pietro (Duilio Del Prete) who sneaks into the convent at night for a bit of the old in-out-in-out. Meanwhile, Mother Julia (Anne Heywood) gets her Machiavellian funk on good and proper, enlisting the help of well-connected nobleman Don Carlos (Pier Paolo Capponi) in petitioning Rome on her behalf. Don Carlos, however, has an ulterior motive in that the new Mother Superior will have the ear of Cardinal d’Arezzo (Claudio Gora) regarding the appointment of governor to a foreign territory rich in ore and minerals. Don Carlos has a fiscal interest in said assets. He also has an interest – lascivious, this time – in Mother Julia’s niece Isabella (Ornella Muti), newly arrived at the convent as a novice. While Don Carlos plots to coerce Mother Julia into pimping out Isabella as part of the powerplay, fellow novice Agnes (Muriel Catala) worries that Isabella will replace her in Mother Julia’s affections. Meanwhile, the walking case of sexual hysteria that is Sister Chiara (Martine Brochard) is already jealous that Mother Julia favours Agnes and not her, while Isabella yearns for her earnest but low-born sweetheart Fernando (Gianluigi Chirizzi), out of whose arms she was vouchsafed into the supposed safety of the convent.

So: Borgia-like corruption and power struggles, illicit love affairs, barely suppressed lesbian urges, backstabbing, bitchery and general ungodliness in the house of the lord. Starring world-class Eurovixens Muti and Brochard and former Miss Great Britain Heywood. Nunsploitation heaven, right?

Ladies and gentlemen, lechers and hairy-palmed pervs, it is my sad duty to report that ‘The Nun and the Devil’ is quite a tedious little number. Yes, you read that right. Director Domenico Paollela manages to make a nunsploitation movie – surely one of the most illicitly titillating of sexploitation subgenres – boring. A nunsploitation movie, I might add, that is rife with sexual hysteria, sexual rivalry, power games and politicking; a nunsploitation movie that fires off some pretty resounding broadsides against the Catholic church; a nunsploitation movie, for Chrissakes, that features Ornella freakin’ Muti – Ornella Muti, the kind of woman who could not only make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window but set fire to the pulpit as well. And it’s boring.

There should have been an inquest, with expert testimony from every exploitation director working in Europe in the 1970s, to determine how this happened. Just like there’s an inquest – i.e. an inquisition (of the capital “i” variety) – in the second half of the film. There is, perhaps, just enough of the truly nasty in the final stretches of ‘The Nun and the Devil’ to get Paollela off the charge of cinematic ennui. As Cardinal d’Arezzo’s crusading right-hand-man Carafo (Luc Merenda) descends on Sant’Archangelo to investigate accusations of corruption and immorality, Paollela cuts loose with a sequence that intercuts courtroom drama speechifying with scenes of torture that generally require the nuns on the receiving end to be naked.

It all ends with Julia delivering an impassioned speech accusing her accusers – Heywood goes all out – but there’s a definite tang of “too little too late”. Too many longueurs in the lead up to the nasty stuff, and even the nastiest of the nasty can seem like a desperate scrabble for the audience’s attention.

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