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9/10
A fascinating film with wonderful touching moments…
Nazi_Fighter_David7 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Poverty, Charity, and Obedience are extremely difficult... Detachment from family and friends is difficult... Detachment from things and memories is much more difficult...

Silence, detachment and mortification are the conditions of prayer and the negative aspect of a nun's spirituality, while prayer and union with God are its positive aspects... To be firm, prayer must be built on profound humility...

Gabrielle Van der Mal is a morally powerful girl who wants from all her heart to be obedient to the bells of the congregation... She perfectly knows that her personal wishes come to an end when she enters that door... Her loving father remembers her: 'If you ever decide this is not right for you, there's no sense of failure coming back home.'

The film's first part focuses on the making of a Catholic nun as it follows the young Belgian girl, from the time she takes leave of her dispirited father to enter the rigorous Roman Catholic order, until her appearance as an experienced nursing nun, hopeful of following the medical vocation of her famous surgeon father...

The story then moves to the Congo where God selects his moment to offer the most perfect alliance with each individual soul... Gabrielle, now known as Sister Luke, assists as server of Dr. Fortunati, 'a genius, a devil and a non-believer,' who takes pleasure in noting Sister Luke's minor infractions of her vows that would require confession...

It's clear that the process of becoming an exemplary nun is a lot harder than any woman can hope for... Sister Luke is supposed to make the love of God the motive of all her actions... She seems to fail in her Vows of Poverty, Charity and Obedience... Pride is not being burned out of her... The more she attempts, the more imperfect she becomes...

"The Nun's Story" is a fascinating film with wonderful touching moments but also with traumatic scenes in a mental institution... The dark side of the Congo is seen through the eyes of a priest, when Sister Luke visited a leper colony...

The performances are extraordinary... It's visually beautiful, and after a very slow start, the film builds quickly to a very powerful ending... The last shot is the only instance of a Warner Brothers film not to have music over its end-title...

The film garnered eight Academy Award nominations, one for its big star Audrey Hepburn...
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10/10
How to be your best, your very best...a lush, vivid, inward looking masterpiece
secondtake26 December 2012
The Nun's Story (1959)

I knew I would enjoy at least Audrey Hepburn, and she's fabulous. But the movie came on as a Christmas Day feature and I worried that it would have too many religious overtones. Then as the credits rolled I saw it was directed by Fred Zinnemann. Zinnemann? I wondered what would draw him to this kind of story. My expectations tripled.

I was not disappointed. This is a measured but never slow movie. It's totally beautiful, it handles the sanctity of the convent with respect, never tipping into sappy adoration. Hepburn is what you want from her, lively and independent, and this is a natural conflict in a world of discipline and loss of independence. And it's also an evolving, changing story with a couple of major twists as it goes. By the end you see very much why Zinnemann wanted to do this and I can't tell you that. See for yourself.

The conflict between self and community, between having your own opinion about something and being forced to follow a larger set of rules that might not always be best, is the core of the film. When do you rebel? When do you submit? And if you have agreed beforehand to devote your life to submission, do circumstances allow an exception? A total change of heart?

If you think this sounds boring it is not. You might give Hepburn the biggest credit here--she's a natural and you are nothing but sympathetic--but the directing the cinematography are huge, as well. Behind the camera is Franz Planar, who did such trifles as "Holiday" and "Letter from an Unknown Woman" as well as two Audrey Hepburn movies "Roman Holiday" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's." If you have seen any of these (or all) you'll know how really perfectly they are filmed, with the camera in service to the story.

The story, by the say, in "The Nun's Story" is very much the point, even beyond the moral. When does a young woman leave a loving and comfortable home and join a convent, face a loss of self and freedom, and yet still feel useful to the world? Hepburn's character (who changes names, in part of the effort to leave the past behind), wants to go to Africa to serve the needy. How this is thwarted--or not--you'll see, but you really root for her. You see her brush against her principles in every way. And you see a larger principle arise--do the right thing. And she does. It's beautiful. It ought to make you cry. It will easily engage and move you.
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9/10
A monk's perspective
gabrielcsl26 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I am a monk, an vowed member of the Order of St. Benedict (OSB). I'm also a great fan of Audrey Hepburn. I thought fans of this film (agruably Miss Hepburn's greatest performance) might enjoy how someone living a life under religious vows views the film's accuracy. I'd also like to provide a few interesting historical facts about the way the Nun's story came into existence.

Several contributors have commented on Hepburn's amazing performance, given the fact that she had to rely on pure acting skill, unaided by fashions and glamorous make up. Hepburn's son Sean Ferrer has said his mother considered her work in the Nun's Story to be the piece she was proudest of. It's easy to see why. There is nothing affected or stylized in her performance. It's honest, pure and simple.

Many of the customs of religious life depicted in the film were phased out, de-emphasized or abandoned after Vatican II. Orders that retain customs such as the culpa (the Chapter of Faults) have found ways to make the custom more of a simple acknowledgment rather than a public humiliation. The emphasis nowadays is on being honest about one's failings and less on a striving for a cookie cutter, robotic conforming to a supernatural ideal. There is more of an emphasis on acceptance and charity than on penance.

Dame Edith Evans, as the superior general of the order, Mother Emmanuel is both lofty and empathetic. Her few scenes in the film are some of the best. If anyone reading this has ever been a CEO or alone at the top of a chain of command, you will understand the loneliness of her position. The superior general of a religious order like the one depicted in the film has no equal in rank anywhere in the entire community. The local superiors (in the film Mothers Marcella, Christophe, Mathilde and Didyma) at least have counterparts of equal rank within the congregation. They answer to the superior general. The actresses who played these parts gave very accurate performances. Even the seemingly cold Mother Didyma at the hospital on the Holland border (from where Sister Luke leaves the convent) was accurate. I've known superiors and novice guardians (formerly called novice masters/mistresses) who were just as rigid.

Two of the most important parts in the film are Sister Margarita (mistress of postulants) and Sister William (Sister Luke's idol/role model). The scene where Sister Luke returns to the mother house and encounters Sister Margarita and her current flock of postulants is very poignant. The fleeting smile of recognition and affection on Sister Margarita's face speaks volumes to Sister Luke. Particular friendships, as they were then called, were forbidden, both as a guard against "unnatural affections" and as a way to preserve fraternal charity. The wonderful Rosalie Crutchley makes almost a cameo appearance as the mistress of novices (her last film was "Four Weddings and a Funeral" where she plays the wedding guest who asks Kristin Scott Thomas if she is a lesbian).

Dean Jagger, as Dr. van Der Mal, Sister Luke's father, is sympathetic and sad. Indeed, families "giving a daughter to God" in those days, rarely saw their daughters. Visits home were not permitted (unless you were ill in hospital or traveling to your next mission, you never slept outside of the convent). Your family could visit you four times a year. Letters were strictly censored and restricted.

Much is made of the relationship between Sister Luke and Dr. Fortunati in the Congo years. Fortunati's assessment of Sister Luke's worldliness is dead on. Peter Finch gave just the right amount of sarcasm, respect and adoration of Sister Luke in his performance.

The bottom line is while the film and novel both sensationalize and dramatize religious life (I've never heard of a superior suggesting someone fail an examination to show humility) the depiction of religious life in the early 1900's is pretty accurate. One entered the convent in order to learn to love God more. Mother Emmanual states at the end of the film that Sister Luke's love of medicine must take a back seat to her religious life. Sister Luke's failure is due to her inability get her arms around the vow of obedience.

In real life, Marie Louise Habets entered the convent two weeks after a brief interview with the superior general, Mother Xaverine. Today, months (if not a couple of years) of discernment would take place and the aspirant would be expected to pass a series of psychological tests.

Kathryn Hulme wrote a novel, not a biography, inspired by the life of a woman she met after WWII. Neither Hulme or Habets ever claimed the book was true from start to finish. One of the European publishers did that and thus created a myth that persists to this day.

The Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, the order to which Habets once belonged, were scandalized and devastated by the book. The publisher's claims of accuracy and truth shocked them. An internal document, written by the assistant superior general (a former classmate of Habets -they entered on the same day and took vows on the same day) strongly and vigorously denounced the booked and accused the former nun of betrayal and the worst form of pride imaginable.

Hulme wrote a letter to Mother Xaverine explaining the "misunderstanding" and asking for her understanding. Hulme and Habets became life long companions.

The Nun's Story is a beautiful and exquisitely crafted film. The direction, acting, sets and musical score are among the best.
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8/10
Mesmerizing film with magnificent screenplay , wonderful performances and intense drama
ma-cortes19 May 2014
Enjoyable as well colorful picture about a dedicated religious nurse who attempts to cure troubled people in the Belgian Congo . The melancholy tale from the Kathryn Hulme book dealing with a young missionary working as a nurse during WWII and based on the novel of the same name, that told the story of the real-life "Sister Luke," Marie-Louise Habets . Gabriella (enticing Audrey Hepburn ,the character was suggested for Ingrid Bergman but Bergman herself said she was too old for the role and instead proposed Audrey) is the daughter of an important doctor (Dean Jagger) who leaves the convent as Sister Luke . The movie has opening credits play out over street scenes of Bruges , at over 1,500 years old , one of the oldest cities in Belgium, and at one time, the most important commercial city in the world . In 1939, while the Nazi regime subjugates European Nations Graciella travels to the Belgian Congo , her assignment in the Congo is at a European hospital under the atheist eye of a doctor called Fortunai (Peter Finch). Slowly , Gabriella or Sister Luke heals ills , helps injured villagers and usually prays . But the Nazis rise to power and invade her homeland . Then , she returns Belgium , there questions her religious vocation and her moralizing comes back to haunt her .

Director Fred Zinneman struck a correct balance of fine pace and sensitivity in the mesmerizing tale of a young Belgian girl who becomes a religious missionary and is sent to the Belgian Congo to work at a hospital . Finely starred by a luminous Audrey Hepburn as a dedicated nun who subsequently comes to question her vocation , as she is struggling to reconcile her free spirit and philanthropic wishes with the religious rigors ; Hepburn chalked up another hit in this long but always interesting flick based on Kathryn Hulme's novel , being rightly adapted by screenwriter Robert Anderson . Spectacular settings and well staged scenes , in fact , members of the Rome Opera ballet corps were hired to play some of the nuns, and complex convent rituals were literally choreographed for them . This agreeable flick packs an exciting screenplay , thought-provoking drama , fine interpretations and intelligent filmmaking . It's surprising that the movie didn't achieve any of the six Academy Award for which it was nominated ; however , it won NY Film Critics to best actress and director and British Academy gave prizes to best actress and support cast . Casting is frankly well . Good acting by Audrey Hepburn as a beautiful missionary nurse who gains the trust of the locals , not only providing medical care but dealing with African people ; this was one of Audrey Hepburn's favorite of her films and it was also one of her most financially successful . Excellent Peter Finch as a good surgeon , he doesn't quite hit it off with Gabriella at first but soon starts to develop deep affections for her . Furthermore , a nice support cast formed by notorious secondaries such as Edith Evans , Peggy Ashcroft , Dean Jagger ,Beatrice Straight ,Rosalie Crutchley , Ruth White , Barbara O'Neil , Lionel Jeffries , Colleen Dewhurst and Niall MacGinnis , among others . ¨Nun's story¨ consolidated a sub-genre about nuns or religious people in far countries , going on ¨Heaven knows , Mr Allison¨ by John Huston with Robert Mitchum Deborah Kerr , ¨The Sins of Rachel Cade¨ also produced by Henry Blanke and directed by Gordon Douglas with Angie Dickinson , Roger Moore and Peter Finch , too , and ¨A Nun at the Crossroads¨ with Rosanna Schiaffino and John Richardson , among others.

Appropriate as well as sensitive musical score by the classic Franz Waxman . Glamorous and evocative cinematography by Franz Planer , though mostly filmed on real African exteriors , in fact , the film was shot on location in Rome, Bruges, Stanleyville and a real leper colony in the Congo . The motion picture well produced by Henry Blanke was stunningly directed by Fred Zinneman. This is one of various and pleasant works , some major and minor successes of his long career as a filmmaker . He was a Hollywood veteran director, directing early movies and a long career until the 80s . With ¨The nun's story¨ Zinnemann chalked another major hit in this overlong but always absorbing tale . After acquiring the rights to Kathryn Hulme's bestselling novel, Fred Zinnemann found that no one in Hollywood had any enthusiasm towards turning it into a film, citing it as being devoid of action , but all that changed when Audrey Hepburn expressed a desire to take the lead role . Rating : 8 , Above average , well worth seeing .
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10/10
the art of subtlety
Buddy-5117 April 2006
Perched high atop the list of the finest American movies of the 1950's, Fred Zinnemann's "The Nun's Story" is an intensely beautiful and powerful film about a woman who undergoes a crisis of faith and, through her struggle, learns the importance of finding one's true path in life. Based on the novel by Kathryn Hulme, the film tells the story of Gabrielle van der Mal, a Belgian woman who enters the convent in the 1930's, spends a brief period working as a nurse in the Congo, then leaves the order after years of intense personal struggle with herself and with God. Among American films of its time, "The Nun's Story" stands virtually alone in its ability and willingness to dramatize a conflict taking place in the deepest recesses of a character's mind and soul.

Audrey Hepburn - sans makeup and the kind of fashion-plate wardrobe that had already become the hallmark of her movie career - delivers one of her richest performances as the strong-willed and fiercely independent Sister Luke, whose very psyche is torn asunder by the battle between her own innate, personal pride and a sincere desire to live a life of obedience to the Church and its rules. With everything but her countenance hidden beneath a nun's habit, Ms. Hepburn is forced to draw on her resources as an actress, having to convey the titanic internal conflict taking place within her character almost entirely through facial expressions, vocal intonations and body language. And she proves herself more than equal to the challenge. She is brilliantly complemented by Peter Finch, playing the cynical but humane Dr. Fortunati, a dedicated surgeon who is as concerned about Sister Luke's spiritual health as her physical health. The relationship between the two is handled with a great deal of subtlety and tact, never allowing the obvious romantic attraction between the two attractive people to come too much to the fore. Rounding out the excellent cast are Dean Jagger as Gabrielle's loving and concerned father, Peggy Ashcroft and Mildred Dunnock as two older nuns who help guide Sister Luke along the way, and the incomparable Edith Evans, simply astounding as the Reverend Mother who sees unwavering devotion to God and the Church as the one and only goal of a serious nun.

Among other things, "The Nun's Story" is that rare film dealing with religion and spirituality that doesn't contain a single hokey or sentimental moment, that knows the difference between religion and religiosity, that is respectful without being unduly reverential, and that acknowledges the complexity of the human heart in matters of devotion and faith. It also is not afraid to take its time to set the scene and tell its story, never feeling the need to rush headlong into the next dramatic moment just to keep the movie going. In a perfect blending of form and content, the film is every bit as thoughtful, subtle and contemplative as its subject matter, its mood greatly enhanced by the rich and beautiful Franz Waxman score that underlines the seriousness of the work.

In addition to all its other fine virtues, "The Nun's Story" features one of the greatest final scenes and closing shots in motion picture history, a masterpiece of precision and understatement that demonstrates the kind of taste Zinnemman always displayed as a director. The movie is made up of small, beautifully observed moments that, when put together, provide a powerful glimpse into the heart and life of a fascinating, caring individual who wants to do great things in the world but who realizes that the path she has chosen is not the one that will ultimately lead her to her rightful destiny.

On every level of film-making, this is truly one of the greats.
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9/10
A Very High-Quality Film
ccthemovieman-117 November 2009
I was amazed how a long, fairly slow film like this could capture and keep my attention all the way through.....but it did. This is really a quality film, as those who have seen it for years, will attest. It's so well done, in all phases, that when the two-and-a-half hours are up, you just marvel and what you've witnessed.

Anyone who has tried to live a perfect life, to please God and never offend Him with sins of any nature, knows it is impossible. It is a noble pursuit, but an exercise in futility that can lead to utter frustration. That is the dilemma we witness here in this film through the life of a well-meaning and sweet-as-can-be Belgian lady: "Gabrielle van der Mal" who is renamed "Sister Luke" after completing her training as a nun in the 1930s. Audrey Hepburn is superb as this woman, who has the greatest of spiritual intentions and a heart not only for God but to be a great nurse and follow in her father's footsteps, a famous physician in his country.

Can't she be both? The answer, of course, is "yes," but that's not the answer she receives periodically at the convent, or interprets because she's so tough on herself, and it causes great inner conflict.

Hepburn doesn't have tons of dialog in here and doesn't require it. The different looks on her face during this long story, especially when there is disappointment, are priceless. They are so subtle, but so telling. I am one who would vote for this film as Audrey's best performance, which is saying a lot.
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10/10
Audrey Hepburn Glows as Sister Luke
dglink8 September 2006
An intense conflict between spirituality and humanity lies at the core of Fred Zinneman's excellent adaptation of Katherine Hulme's "The Nun's Story." Young Gabrielle enters the convent and, as Sister Luke, strives to attain the difficult qualities of sisterhood, but at the same time her talents and skills at medicine and research pull her in another direction. Gabrielle is taught that a nun not only takes vows of chastity and poverty, but must also be obedient and humble. Although not overtly discussed, Sister Luke's decision to enter the convent may have been connected to a romantic affair, the only evidence of which are a ring, a photograph, and a comment from her father. Although Sister Luke tries to obey the rules of silence and obedience, she is the daughter of a prominent physician, and she harbors ambitions to work in medicine and serve in the Congo. The conflict between the two competing ambitions reaches a crisis point when a sister superior suggests to her that she fail her medical examinations in order to show humility.

Audrey Hepburn imbues Sister Luke with a radiance and glow that illuminates the screen. In what is arguably her finest performance, Hepburn displays the subtle shades of conflict and doubt that creep into her persona as she struggles between her roles as a Bride of Christ and a practical nurse to the sick and dying. Reportedly, Hepburn's interest in helping the needy of Africa began during the location shooting for this film.

A galaxy of fine actresses shine as the sisters with whom Sister Luke interacts. Such luminaries as Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Mildred Dunnock, Barbara O'Neil, and Beatrice Straight offer their own special glow as patient and understanding nuns. Colleen Dewhurst has only a couple of memorable scenes as a hospital inmate, but, with few lines of dialog, she creates an enduring character. Peter Finch and Dean Jagger are solid and effective as, respectively, Dr. Fortunati, who works with Sister Luke in the Congo, and as Gabrielle's disappointed father.

While "The Nun's Story" is comparatively long, the fascinating detail of the young nun's years as a novice, medical student, asylum aide, missionary, and hospital nurse in Belgium and the Congo during the 1930's is engrossing and tastefully filmed by Fred Zinneman. With beautiful cinematography by Franz Planer and a spare, but lovely, score by Franz Waxman, "The Nun's Story" is one of the most religious movies ever filmed. Few films have ever so successfully explored the demands of a spiritual life and the conflict those demands can create in someone with strong human needs. With Audrey Hepburn at her zenith, "The Nun's Story" was among the finest films of the 1950's and still remains a rewarding emotional experience.
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10/10
Exceptional
Jon Kolenchak26 November 2000
When Audrey Hepburn, as Sister Luke returns from the Belgian Congo, she has a brief meeting with her father, whom she has not seen in years. So much time has gone by that they engage mostly in small talk. He when he finally asks her how she is "inside" (gesturing to her heart), she responds with, "Fine, how are you, Father"?. He replies, "Still very lonesome for you". That scene alone is enough to break your heart.

The Nun's Story is filled with such scenes. Fred Zinnemann directed this film so perfectly that you don't even realize that for the first 40 minutes or so, you are being instructed on how nuns learn to "act like nuns".

There are lots of famous actors in those habits, too. Beatrice Straight (Network), Barbara O'Neill (Gone with the Wind), as well as a glorious performance by Dame Edith Evans as Mother Emmanuel.

The amount of emotion that Audrey Hepburn can portray with just her eyes, a turn of her head, or a subtle facial expression is simply incredible. Without giving away any important plot element, there is one scene where she is in her cell trying to cope with a letter that she received. It is one of the most painful scenes in the entire film.

Sister Luke's struggles are balanced by scenes that are so beautiful in their simplicity, that to attempt description here would be impossible.

And the film score by Franz Waxman is one of the best things he has ever written - most of the melodic motifs are based on ancient Gregorian chant, and the orchestration is superb. When we reach a climactic scene involving Colleen Dewhurst, he switches from his Romanticized writing style to a 20th century 12-tone technique, and the shock of the dissonant music fits the action of the scene perfectly.

Sister Luke's struggle is universal. Anyone who has looked deep into their own soul for whatever reason can identify with her.

When Sister Luke is asked by her father to describe her doctor in the Congo, she smiles and says, "Exceptional". The same can be said for this beautiful film.
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9/10
Makes For Beautiful Nun's Story
marcin_kukuczka30 September 2012
The image of water gradually sharpens the reflections of objects above...as soon as we get to know the leading character of NUN'S STORY, it is not hard to predict that it is all going to be an involving, mesmerizing viewing experience - yet, nothing for the vast majority of audience.

In the eyes of her father, Dr Van Der Mal (Dean Jagger), our protagonist - young Gabrielle (Audrey Hepburn) is not really a strong willed girl obedient to the bells. Perhaps he sees other future for her. However, she makes up her mind to resign from engagement with one Jean and sacrifice her life for interior and exterior silence, for the detachment of worldly goods, for obedience and penance doing good and disappearing for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Although she manages to go through the agonies of various inner struggles and tests, will she be able to exercise and bring into action the spirit of charity for all, to face Christianity's hardest obedience - forgive everyone, all evil-doers for anything harmful done to them or their beloved ones?

The truest merit of Fred Zinneman's movie, at first sight, seems to lie in the execution of the storyline (the film's literary source is the book by Kathryn Hulme). It is, as the title implies, a nun's story not so much supplied with laughable aspects (as it is the case with a number of movies nowadays) but a very insightful, thought provoking depiction of virtues enforced and exercised behind the 'bars' of the convent. With this in mind, we deservedly prepare for an excellent glimpse of the atmospheric mystique, for prayers, hymns clothed in unearthly tunes of sublime music. Here, great credit goes not only to the cinematographer Franz Planer, a winner at Academy Awards, who supplies us with cinematographic pearls, including the tremendously effective shots of interior silence of the specific place, but also to Franz Waxman for his brilliantly atmospheric, accurate and vibrant music score. He memorably incorporates certain tunes derived from almost 'iconic' chants to particular scenes. In this way, the score sets the right tone for the story, changes and controls the moods of various scenes. That refers to such pieces of music as 'Salve Regina' and 'Veni Creator Spiritus' - milestones of Christian music.

However, the greatest praise is not deservedly directed towards the crew members, even to the director Fred Zinneman but to Audrey Hepburn in the lead. It seems quite obvious that not every actress can play a nun convincingly. Simply because we, as viewers with certain background experiences (both visual and conceptual), are heavily influenced by certain expectations, even clichéd expectations. In that respect, Ms Hepburn really meets our expectations...more to say, she makes for a perfect portrayal of a nun. There is a combination of certainty and doubt, subtlety and strictness in her face and her entire portrayal, which makes her character easily empathized with. Because the gist that lies behind the fact who Gabrielle/Sister Lukas really is appears to be underlined in her struggles to learn obedience and humility. These virtues that are so memorably and timelessly revealed in Culpa and Penance evoke in her performance. Ms Hepburn portrays a very human character, a very gentle young girl, a subtle nun and a dedicated nurse. Simply a superb performance! A sophisticated portrayal! She is funny at times (mind you the lovely scene with little Felix) and genuinely dramatic when the moment requires that perfectly switching from one bunch of emotions to another. If I were to name her best scenes, I think that task would be quite impossible. I would highlight some of her most memorable scenes, which include the entrance to the convent, the Congo sequence, her collaboration with Dr Fortunati (Peter Finch) vs. the scenes with her father.

The aforementioned Congo sequence belongs to the true pearls among the color films of the late 1950s. Authentic, beautiful shots of nature and landscape, the gloomy scene on the isle of the lepers along with the haunting score long lasts in the memory of a viewer. The film is worth viewing, apart from Ms Hepburn masterful achievement, for the sequence alone.

The supporting cast include some solid performances from Peter Finch as choleric but caring Dr Fortunati, Dean Jagger as wonderful Dr Von Der Mal, Gabrielle's father (what a brilliant father that is who says: "I don't want to be proud of you; I want you to be happy!") and the sisters are uniquely memorable (you will never mix the characters due to their specific features underlined): Peggy Ashcroft as Mother Mathilde, Edith Evans as Mother Emmanuel, Rosalie Crutchley (note Acte from QUO VADIS) as Sister Eleanor. They are recognizable.

Finally, let me quote Bosley Crowther, the New York Times reviewer, who said about the film: "Mr. Zinnemann has made this off-beat drama describe a parabola of spiritual afflatus and deflation that ends in a strange sort of defeat. For the evident point of this experience is that a woman gains but also loses her soul, spends and exhausts her devotion to an ideal she finds she cannot hold."

But what is superior in one's life? Blind obedience to an ideal or being true to oneself? Where are we in that dilemma? Where is our protagonist? What does the final drama indicate? Greater torments or relief? She turns right as she leaves so perhaps...

Dare accuse yourself of seeing it critically but let yourself see it and think. Although the movie is more than half a century old, it has not lost its charm and entertainment along with all the dilemmas herein incorporated. Worth viewing as not only a nun's story but a person's drama.
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Superb in all respects
1726819 September 2004
"The Nun's Story" is the best movie dealing with religion that I have ever seen. The movie has what is possibly Audrey Hepburn's greatest performance;

anyone who thinks she was only a fashion model is well advised to see this film. I first saw it in a theatre, in 1959. I went in about five minutes before the end--and the theatre was completely sold out. At the end of the movie, no one moved--everyone remained seated for about thirty seconds. Then the audience got up and filed out--without a single sound. I stayed through to see the ending again. The audience behavior was the same. I have never seen an audience reaction like this.

Hepburn should have received an Oscar for this performance, as well as another for "Two for the Road," for which she wasn't even nominated. She has been sadly underrated and undervalued as an actress. Her high placement in many Best Actress Ever polls has been entirely justified and very pleasing.
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9/10
It deserves to be more seen by the current public.
filipemanuelneto28 June 2016
This film shows the life of a Belgian nun, from the moment she enter to the convent and through successive crises of vocation and a mission in Belgian Congo. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the film has a screenplay by Robert Anderson, based on a fictional novel by Kathryn Hulme. The cast is led by Audrey Hepburn, in the lead role.

Despite having been nominated for eight Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Cinematography Color, Best Soundtrack and Best Editing), this film has been ignored by people over the last few decades, which makes it probably one of the most unknown movies in Hepburn's career. Of course, many people think, reading the title, this film is pure Catholic propaganda, and maybe that's why its not widely spoken. But its far from propaganda, despite showing, with accuracy, the modus vivendi of the nuns in the beginning of the last century. Keep track of time is very important to understand the film, which passes through in the end of World War II, and also helps to understand one thing that the film doesn't say but any person will notice quickly: the way of life that the nuns of this film lead fell into disuse for decades ago, due to the massive modernization that the Catholic Church suffered.

The script is excellent, though not (as some people think) a true story. Much of the film is fiction inspired by real facts, but fiction. Its a history of sacrifice, overcoming, love to a vocation and a profession: medicine, that the young nun exercises as religious. But its also a film about doubts, inner conflicts and people trying to be better by facing their failures and humanity. Audrey Hepburn shone as Gabrielle/Sister Luke, her beautiful face gave her an almost angelic appearance and a truly powerful presence on screen. The way she counter-acts with Peter Finch, who played a doctor in Congo, with very specific ideas and almost devoid of faith, its delicious. The scenarios are very good, recreating well the religious ambiance and the almost savage Africa, that Europeans pioneered in those years.

The end of the film is one of the most amazing I've seen, mainly for two reasons: First, its absolutely silent, having no music; second, after seeing this nun suffer so much by her dreams, its impossible for her not to win the public's affection, so the end becomes difficult to accept for the public.

Decidedly, this film is worthy and deserves to be seen more often by the current public.
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9/10
Don't let the title serve only as a turn-off...
caramh12 August 2000
Honestly, if my family hadn't already owned this movie I probably would have past over it again and again without much hesitation. However, given the limited amount of movies I had to chose from, I decided to give this movie a fair shot. Wow. To think that I only viewed this movie out of desperation is embarrassing! The inner-struggle that Sr. Luke (Audrey Hepburn)undergoes from postulant to nun is incredibly human, not strictly religious. I thought, given the movie's topic, that I would be bored and lost, yet found myself completely in touch with the reality of her life. Its almost impossible not to become in touch with her character, especially once she reaches the Congo and faces the underplayed romantic tension between herself and Peter Finch. While I have absolutely no intention of suddenly becoming a nun or running off to the Congo, I will always be up for another viewing of this movie. So ignore the title and give this movie a chance!
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8/10
You can cheat your sisters, but you cannot cheat yourself or God.
lastliberal14 October 2009
Eight Oscar nomination, five Golden Globe nominations, and five BAFTA nominations, with a win for Audrey Hepburn for Best British Actress indicates that this was one of the best films of 1959. Unfortunately, it had to go up against Ben Hur for most awards. That doesn't take a bit from it's excellence and entertainment value.

This is an utterly fascinating story of a young nun (Audrey Hepburn), and a non-believing doctor (Peter Finch). Sister Luke (Hepburn) is constantly challenged in sticking to her vows, especially the one of obedience.

She chaffed at the rules that did not leave room for common sense. Is it better to strictly obey or to do more good in disobedience? It is a question asked over and over.

Things become more difficult as WWII starts. Now, the rules must be set aside to help the war effort. Eventually, the conflict between the rules and her need for independence is resolved.

Hepburn was fantastic, as was Finch. Well worth seeing.
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Inner Conflict
diva_k1317 December 2003
I think that this film contains one of Audrey Hepburn's strongest performances. The movie, however, is not for everyone. The movie has no gloss, no "this is purely for entertainment" message. This movie requires that you think and really watch the movie, otherwise the meaning is lost and thus, you will not like the movie. Others have said that this movie is "slow and boring", but watch the movie yourself. You will see the brilliance of Audrey Hepburn's performance as she portrays Sister Luke's struggle to live for herself and for God. This is a great movie! Please do not be discouraged by the implied "seriousness" of it!
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10/10
Immortal faith journey depicts a nun's struggle of conscience
roghache2 May 2006
This immortal masterpiece depicts the faith journey and conscience struggles of a Belgian nun in the 1930's and 40's. It can be appreciated by any viewer but will naturally have special significance to those whose faith, whether Catholic or otherwise, is important to them. The incomparable Audrey Hepburn brings great depth to the role of Sister Luke, as she strives to keep her convent vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a world shattered by World War II.

The film opens as Gabrielle Van der Mal, a headstrong girl, parts from her devoted father (a physician) to begin a new life in the convent, where she is renamed Sister Luke. We follow her path of preparation for a life dedicated to God...first as a postulant, then a novice, and eventually her final vows. Her convent journey takes her from the Mother House in Belgium to a vocation as nursing nun temporarily in a Brussels mental sanitarium and later a hospital in the Belgian Congo. Finally, circumstances force her to return to Belgium, as all Europe is caught up in the drama of the Second World War.

Sister Luke's inner struggles, rather than external events, occupy the main thrust of this film. She unsuccessfully battles against pride when the Reverend Mother asks Sister Luke, who excels academically, to deliberately fail an exam in tropical medicine in order to prove her humility. However, perhaps because of her innate headstrong nature, she experiences her greatest difficulty maintaining her vow of obedience, first even in general hospital duty when she questions (as nurse versus nun) the bell that commands her to cease nursing duties in order to keep the scheduled convent prayer time. The ultimate test of her obedience comes after her Congo years, when she struggles against hatred of the Germans. The nuns are expected to remain neutral during the war, resistance against the occupying Nazis being forbidden by the Rule of the Convent. Sister Luke's devout faith is never at any time in question. Her struggles involve her attempt to force a round peg (her strong will and individuality) into a square hole (the convent's insistence on unquestioning conformity and strict obedience).

The film depicts very skillfully the anguish felt in those days by family members (specifically, her father) in being parted from their loved one entering the convent. Also, it paints a vivid portrait of many aspects of cloistered life during that era...the wearing of the habit and cutting of the hair, the renunciation of individuality and possessions, the withdrawal from worldly life and attitudes, the complete devotion to God & unquestioning obedience to the convent's strict Rule...and especially of course the inner turmoil potentially involved (at least for some nuns) in keeping these vows.

A compelling aspect of this movie is the close but strained relationship between Sister Luke and Dr. Fortunati, the cynical but compassionate doctor in charge of the Congo hospital. Their religious beliefs are very different, and the agnostic Dr. Fortunati frequently taunts the nursing sister about faith issues. However, the two develop a mutual respect for each another's professional skills and also a genuine, though rather tense, personal friendship. A certain unexplored romantic / sexual attraction underlies all their interactions, though such feelings are not given obvious or sensational focus. Physical touching between this pair is restricted to a handshake and a medical examination of the nun by the doctor. Of course Dr. Fortunati makes no sexual overtures and Sister Luke's inner strength & resolve would undoubtedly have ensured resistance to any such temptation. Frankly, her struggles are with the vow of obedience rather than with chastity, though the entire doctor issue definitely adds viewer interest in the story. The role of Dr. Fortunati is well captured here by actor Peter Finch.

Audrey Hepburn is of course absolutely superb as she unfolds for us the dramatic tale of Sister Luke. She always appears radiant and serene, even during moments of emotional conflict and intense turmoil. The film's quiet, stark closing scenes are among the most powerful and moving in the cinematic world. A strong recommendation for this engrossing & inspiring film and also the book of the same name by Katherine Hulme.
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10/10
One of her best dramatic roles.
lilybear592326 June 2001
Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful actress and many of her movies depicted her in that role, but THE NUN'S STORY was the role I most remember her in. Although I am not of the Catholic faith, after watching this movie I could imagine myself as a nun. Although dated in it's presentation of the rigors required in becoming a nun, it gave an insiders' look into what it must have been like at one time. I often felt she should have won an Oscar for this role. My only complaint is that I have not been able to purchase a restored DVD copy of it for my collection. I would love to see it in it's original wide-screen theatrical release, with background information provided.
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7/10
a cinematic gem
rupie14 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
[*** Possible Spoilers relating to final scene ***] I watched this movie, fascinated, for the first time on Turner Classic Movies recently. The fascination stems from the realization that though this film is only 44 years old, it would be impossible to make such a movie today.

To treat as serious subject matter a woman's inner spiritual struggles as she progresses from postulant to novice to nun, and the crisis of faith that causes her to leave the order, as serious subjects for a movie is something that could not happen today. To make such a story marketable, the movie would have to have a healthy dose of secularism, an anti-religious tone, an attempt to portray the strictures of the order as repressive and authoritarian. After all, since the 60's our culture has taught us all that fulfillment comes from the fullest expression of one's innermost needs, desires, and aspirations. To portray a struggle to find fulfillment through complete self-abnegation and submission to authority as a heroic one would be viewed today as simply perverse. Thus the movie, which makes absolutely no condescensions to secularism, is an antique, though a gorgeous and beautifully made one.

The final scene, which accurately recreates the process by which a nun leaves the order - alone, with no handshakes or embraces or farewells, in a bare room with a door that opens to an outside street - is one of the most powerful I have ever seen. The overwhelming sadness that Sister Luke must have experienced as she walks out that door and down the street, her abandoned habit blowing gently in the breeze as it hangs on a clothes rack, is almost palpable, and is a testament to how powerfully the film has portrayed her struggle. We know that she has, in a very real sense, destroyed the most important part of her life as a result of her unremitting honesty. It is understandable why the director chose not to underline this scene with music; the meaning is too powerful to be accented with music, and to do so would actually undercut the scene's power. Watching it, an analogous scene that came to my mind - looking out a door, watching a conflicted figure walk away - was the closing of John Ford's 'The Searchers.' There are strong emotional analogies, but I find the scene from the Nun's Story to be the more powerful - it is the climax to which the entire movie leads, and is truly one of the rare moments where the cinematic art becomes transcendent.

Having said that, this clearly is not a film for everyone. The subject matter clearly limits its appeal to those who take faith and religion as real and serious subjects.

Production values: exquisite (must be seen in widescreen format). Audrey Hepburn's performance: perhaps her best. Franz Waxman's score (based on an Ave Maria chant from the Liber Usualis): superb.

A film of rich beauty and lasting depth.
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10/10
Entirely authentic - almost
mjlr3219 April 2011
I agree with an earlier writer that it is unlikely that this film could be made today - people wouldn't believe it, or would think that nuns are or were, nuts. I entered a convent in early 1960s and the training, discipline and practices were exactly as depicted, even the kissing of the feet in the refectory, the "culpa", silence, clothing and profession ceremonies. However, the Superior suggesting Sr Luke fail her tropical meds exams to show humility is for dramatic effect only; it would have been a drastic waste of convent time and money in training this young nurse.

Audrey Hepburn's depiction of Sr Luke is nothing short of astonishing. The self-examination of conscience which brings her to her decision to leave must have revived painful memories for many an ex-nun, as does the brilliant last scenes - the cold dismissal of a once-loved sister, the removal of the habit which she can't quite just throw down but must treat with respect as during all those years, one feels her sense of foreboding and strangeness (see how she fingers her secular skirt which now seems too short). One of the best films ever made and certainly Audrey Hepburn's finest.
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8/10
Fine film is Zinneman's best.
brefane30 September 2010
Fred Zinneman's fine, thoughtful and absorbing film succeeds in making inner turmoil palpable thanks in large part to Audrey Hephurn's luminous performance. The nun's habit forces us to concentrate on her face, and Hephurn performs with sustained strength, grace and skill; virtues present in Zinneman's direction as well. Zinneman elicits excellent performances from the entire cast in which Dame Edith Evans and Colleen Dewhurst stand out. Though somewhat long and episodic, The Nun's Story is one of the best films dealing with religious life, and the ending is memorable. Zinneman, who directed The Sundowners(60) A Man for all Seasons(66) Julia(76) and From Here to Eternity(53), maintains an admirably objective tone throughout. Along with Hitchcock's North by Northwest and Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot, The Nun's Story was the best American film released in 1959, though the Oscar for Best Picture went to Ben Hur.
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A Memorable, Worthwhile Classic
Snow Leopard3 November 2004
This memorable, worthwhile classic features Audrey Hepburn, who does very well in a rather atypical role, plus an involved, interesting story that contains quite a bit of thoughtful material. Fred Zinnemann tells the story well, effectively highlighting many good dramatic moments, and maintaining the balance among the many rather weighty themes of the movie. Because of the challenge involved in keeping the story interesting and even-handed, it's really more of an achievement than some of Zinnemann's better-known films.

The atmosphere is consistently believable, from the convent scenes to the mission settings to the hospital settings. Sometimes scenic, sometimes grim, they provide a fine backdrop for the story and characters.

Hepburn is very effective in a role that allows her to work with a good range of dramatic material and a good variety of other characters. Many of the other characters are interesting in themselves, and the supporting cast features some fine talent even in some of the smaller roles. The parade of other persons in and out of Sister Luke's life works very effectively, both in developing her character and in depicting what her chosen lifestyle is like.

The story is completely serious, yet never overly heavy, and it treats the characters and their beliefs respectfully - quite a rarity in films that deal with subjects like religion, war, and relations between different cultures. Perhaps the nature of the material will not seem interesting to many viewers - especially those jaded by a continual diet of the comic book-quality characters in present-day movies - but it is a most thoughtfully made and worthwhile film.
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10/10
Grade A - Audrey is Unsurpassed
gbheron31 May 1999
The Nun's Story follows a young Belgian nun from her initial entry into the Order as a novitiate in 1930 until the occupation of Belgium by the Nazis in 1940. It details the rigors of the 18 month apprenticeship in a nunnery, through nursing school, to a hospital in the Belgian Congo, and then back to Belgium just prior to the outbreak of World War II.

It's a wonderful journey. Fred Zinneman, the actors, Franx Waxman, and everyone else associated with the making of The Nun's Story has created a near flawless cinematic masterpiece. My advice is to go to the classics section of your neighborhood video store and rent it. You won't be disappointed.
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10/10
Magnificent
Boyo-219 August 1999
Audrey Hepburn gives her greatest performance in this thoughtful epic. This is the type of movie that stays with you for the rest of your life and after it is over, you know you've witnessed art. The length of the movie is not an issue, as everything that occurs is compelling. I must mention Colleen Dewhurst's small part also - she, too, is unforgettable.
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8/10
Life Against Nature
claudio_carvalho27 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In 1930, in Belgium, Gabrielle van der Mal (Audrey Hepburn) is the stubborn daughter of the prominent surgeon Dr. Pascin Van Der Mal (Dean Jagger) that decides to leave her the upper-class family to enter to a convent, expecting to work in Congo with tropical diseases. She says good-bye to her sisters Louise and Marie; to her brother Pierre; and to her beloved father, and subjects herself to the stringent rules of the retrograde institution, including interior silent and excessive humbleness and humiliation. After a long period working in a mental institution, Gaby is finally assigned to go to Congo, where she works with the Atheist and cynical, but brilliant, Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch). Sister Luke proves to be very efficient nurse and assistant, and Dr. Fortunati miraculous heals her tuberculosis. Years later, she is ordered to return to Belgium and when her motherland is invaded by the Germans, she learns that her beloved father was murdered by the enemy while he was helping wounded members of the resistance. Sister Luke finally decides to leave the religious life since she is not able to feel neutral against the invaders of her country.

"The Nun's Story" is a great film that tells the story of a young woman that decides to enter in a convent accepting all sort of humiliation in the retrograde institution. It is impressive the non-sense attitudes that the novice is submitted, including self-infliction of whipping, absurd silence, fail in an examination and be repressed for an excel work in the hypocrite name of humbleness. This is not vocation but abnormal brainwash of sick persons in the name of the faith. Audrey Hepburn is magnificent, as usual, and this film was nominated to 8 Oscars, 13 wins and 12 other nominations. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Uma Cruz à Beira do Abismo" ("A Cross in the Edge of the Abyss")
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8/10
Hepburn Is Riveting
atlasmb18 February 2019
Watching the first third of this film aggravated me somewhat, since it seemed to be celebrating the self-contradictory and arbitrary regulations that govern the monastic lives of some nuns. But this film has a lot to offer and each subsequent third is better than the last.

Audrey Hepburn is Gabrielle van der Mal, a young Belgian woman who commits her life to Christ and becomes Sister Luke. Hepburn was proud of this film and justifiably so. Her portrayal (based on a true story) is riveting and authentic. The entire cast is excellent. Peter Finch plays Dr. Fortunati, a physician who challenges Sister Luke with his outspoken nature and his disregard for convention.

The narrative goes well beyond Sister Luke's struggle with her vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. It is a coming of age story and a celebration of self-actualization. In the end, the viewer is left wanting more. Hepburn extracts the maximum emotional impact from each scene, and we know there is much more to this story beyond the final, haunting shot.
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9/10
A Thoughtfully Critical Movie About Religious Commitment
evanston_dad25 March 2017
This Best Picture nominee from 1959 showcases Audrey Hepburn in one of her best performances and one that feels the least like the roles she usually played. Hepburn plays a young woman who is determined to take her vows despite a temperament that everyone close to her realizes isn't suited to the life of a nun. The film isn't exactly critical of religion, but it does acknowledge that devoutness does to a certain extent require an abandonment of independent thinking and in some a voluntary sacrifice of natural gifts to a love of God. Hepburn's character has a gift for science and medicine and would make a gifted nurse. We realize that she could serve Christian ideals more effectively by abandoning her vows and doing what she actually wants to do, but she doesn't see her lack of devoutness as anything other than a failure. She's a fascinating character and one that resonated strongly with me. As someone who isn't religious, I'm constantly mystified by those around me who so narrowly define their world and their place in it in religious terms, and think there's only one way to emulate the ideals our culture labels as Christian and yet are really just a guide to being a decent human being, no matter what your religious beliefs.

Peter Finch has a small but effective role as a doctor who is disdainful of the church and contributes to Hepburn's crisis of faith, and Beatrice Straight is also memorable as a reverend mother who has a broader view of what it means to be a nun than many of the others with whom Hepburn comes in contact.

"The Nun's Story" was nominated for eight Oscars, but unfortunately went up against the "Ben-Hur" behemoth and so won nothing. In addition to Best Picture, it scored nominations for Best Director (Fred Zinnemann), Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Anderson), Best Color Cinematography (Franz Planer), Best Film Editing (Walter Thompson), Best Dramatic or Comedy Score (Franz Waxman), and Best Sound.

Grade: A
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