Spoilers follow ...
- Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun review by NP
With a title like that, and a director like Jess Franco, it’s fairly sure that there will be a certain amount of sleaze in this film. I didn’t realise how much – in many ways this is his most perverse project. 15 year-old Maria Rosalea Coutinho (Sarah Hemmingway) is spied enjoying a playful kiss and cuddle with a local lad by Father Vincente (William Berger), who then manipulates Mariah’s terrified mother into forcing her into life at a convent. Vincente then brings himself to orgasm at the confessional booth after coercing Maria into telling of her mild sexual fumblings.
Many raised eyebrows were caused by the casting of Hemmingway, who looks extremely young, and who is tricked, coerced, tortured and humiliated by the hordes of liars, sycophants, perverts and manipulators around her, most of whom cloak their blatant indiscretions behind the veil of their perception of religion.
As you might well imagine, there are lesbian scenes between the nuns, complete with dialogue like “You have served the prince of darkness, now I will perform the ritual.” These are restrained for Franco, and frankly rather too long. It is the treatment of young Maria which is most effective – a pure innocent who has been cast amongst this nest of vipers because of what they consider to be HER bad attitude! It’s not nice at all. Especially as the unpleasant events are conveyed without spectacle, either by Franco, or the benign choral score from Walter Baumgartner.
As with all Franco/Erwin C. Dietrich collaborations, this is crisply shot and appears to have been provided with a decent budget. As always, the locations are incredible. An exercise in ‘nunsploitation’, the use of religion as a veneer of respectability is effective, and Hemmingway appears so naive with her character offering barely any resistance to the horror she finds herself in (excepting her pleas to a mother too stupid/timorous to help). Even Satan appears to join in with the black mass being practiced. Berger is highly convincing as Father Vincente, effortlessly bending others unto his will and gleefully taking advantage of Maria. You get the distinct impression he and others like him are used to getting away with these kind of atrocities and bare them no thought. Even through the barrier of dubbing, it is very easy to despise this rotter. Of all Franco’s output, I find this film one of the most difficult to watch.
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