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Die Liebsbriefe einer Portugiesischen Nonne

Love Letters of a Portoguese Nun

Switzerland/West Germany 1977
produced by
Erwin C. Dietrich, Max Dora (executive) for Ascot, Cinemec, Elite
directed by Jess Franco
starring Susan Hemingway, William Berger, Ana Zanatti, Herbert Fux, Aida Vargas, Vítor Mendes, Isa Schneider, Herman José, José Viana, Patricia Da Silva, Victor de Sousa, Nicolau Breyner, Esther Studer, Dagmar Bürger, Anton Diffring
written by Erwin Dietrich (as Manfred Gregor), Christine Lembach (dialogue), music by Walter Baumgartner, cinematography by Peter Baumgartner

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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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 Inquisition ...

 

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.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
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On the same day
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directed by
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written by
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