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Father Vinzenz (William Berger) catches young Marie (Susan Hemingway)
playing with her boyfriend Anselmo in the most innocent of ways - but
still he convinces her she has sinned and convinces her mother (Patricia
Da Silva) to send the girl to the monastery - and not only that, he even
makes Marie's mother pay for it even though she has next to nothing.
At the monastery, Marie is tortured by Mother Alma (Ana Zanatti) in all
sorts of ways to repent for sins she hasn't even committed yet, while
Father Vinzenz likes to masturbate while she tells him her (perfectly
natural) sexual dreams, but believing in the love of God, Marie remains
strong. When Anselmo eventually breaks into the monastery to help her
escape, she even refuses to go with him ... the poor fool, because she
doesn't know yet that the Monastery is actually an Order of Satan, with
Mother Alma being its high priestess and Father Vinzenz being her
second-in-command. And they have chosen virginal Marie to be deflowered by
Satan himself (Herbert Fux) at this night's Black Mass ...
The day after the Black Mass though, everybody denies it ever happened,
and she is told it was all just in her sick imagination, which makes her
even more of a sinner than she already is and she needs to be tortured
more, way more ...
Eventually, Marie manages to make an escape and reports everything to
the local Alcalde (Vítor Mendes) - but unfortunately he thinks the girl
is just a bit crazy and he brings her right back to the monastery ...
where she is tortured even more, than she's accused of being a witch and
handed over to the Inquisition.
There she is made to confess everything, and is consequently condemned
to be burned as a witch - but unfortunately she accused Mother Alma and
Father Vinzenz of being in league with Satan, so they hav to torture her
yet more to make her revoke these accusations.
With only hours to live, Marie writes a loveletter to God, in whom she
still trusts despite everything and throws it out of the window ... right
in front of the feet of Prince Gonzalvez (Herman José), who takes this
letter as proof against Mother Alma and Father Vinzenz, and literally in
the last minute (the fire is already burning), the Prince saves Marie from
the stake and has Mother Alma and Father Vinzenz incarcerated by the
The title of this film might make one expect something juicy and sexy -
but actually the title Love Letters of a Portoguese Nun itself is
stolen from an epistalory novel either written by Mariana Alcoforado, a
real Portuguese nun, or (which is considered more likely) by
Gabriel-Joseph de La Vergne, comte de Guilleragues, and which was first
published in 1669.
Be that as it may, the film has nothing to do with the novel, and the
only love letter our Portoguese nun ever writes is one to God ... who
actually saves her in the end. The fim itself actually plays more like
your typical women in prison-flick (a very popular genre back in
the days), with Susan Hemingway playing the new fish who is exposed to all
sorts of torture and humiliation and who in the end is saved only when
it's almost too late. For some reason though, director Jess Franco, who -
given his predilection for sadism and erotica - seems to be the ideal
choice to direct a film like this, is not at the height of his game with
this one, camerawork and direction of the film seem rather uninspired,
Franco's trademark tongue-in-cheek humour is totally absent, as are his
fascination for fetishes and female nudity (there's still enough nudity in
this one of course, but not the Franco-way). A way too small budget for a
period pic of this scale has certainly not helped either. That all said,
the film has its redeeming features, Susan Hemingway is totally convincing
as th innocent but corrupted young girl, and William Berger as the
perverted priest is nothing short of creepy. And Herbert Fux as Satan
taking poor Susan from behind - great !!!
So while Love Letters of a Portoguese Nun is one of Franco's
most wellknown films, it's certainly not among his best - but it's good
enoguh to take a peek or two if you don't expect too much.