""The Nun's Story" is probably Audrey Hepburn's best film and by far the one which shows to best effect her enormous acting talent. It is the autobiographical tale of Sister Luke, a very young Belgian nun, who enters the convent at age 17 for specifically the wrong reason: her doctor father refuses to let her marry the young man she loves because there is insanity in his family background. She won't admit to him, as she is too young to admit it to herself, that her underlying reason in entering the convent was to spite her father, who believes women have a duty to marry and have children, but he is powerless to oppose her in this; he can prevent her from marrying her fiance, but who is he to defy God? Sister Luke, as played by Hepburn, wins us over instantly: she's generous, open-hearted, all or nothing, trying and failing and trying again, expecting too much of herself, wanting to fit in to the routine of her cloister, but feeling stifled by its constraints. The atmosphere of the convent is brought so vividly to life that we feel the conflicts pulling her in opposite directions: the peace and serenity that are embodied in the Reverend Mother Emmanuel (Edith Evans is so great in this role that she doesn't seem to be acting at all), and the incessant weight of seemingly arbitrary and nonsensical rules and regulations that attempt to crush all individuality and spontaneity. The pivotal conflict arises in the first half of the movie, when Sister Luke is asked by her Mother Superior to fail a qualifying examination for a nursing post in the Congo so that a less gifted nun can have her place, and Sister Luke has to make a choice: her failure will be a gift from God, but her success in the examination will win her a position in the Congolese hospital where her talents can be most fully utilized. And this is where Sister Luke has to face her inner dilemma: the convent, with all its rules and regulations, hasn't managed to crush her individuality -- she is too much her own person to let go of herself. It is in the Congo that Sister Luke comes into her own. She falls in love with the country and its people as soon as she steps off the boat. She is sent to the European hospital to assist Dr. Fortunati, a brilliant, cynical surgeon who immediately sees through Sister Luke and understands her better than she understands herself. The meeting of minds between these two is awesome to watch and in itself makes the movie worth seeing. Dr. Fortunati, brilliantly played by Peter Finch, tells Sister Luke time and again that she will never be the kind of nun her convent expects her to be. The sexual tension between the two is evident but downplayed; Dr. Fortunati knows it's impossible and Sister Luke simply refuses to acknowledge it. The climax comes when Sister Luke is ordered back to the mother house in Belgium, and we suspect that Dr. Fortunati may have had a hand in it, to force her to face up to the fact that she is more nurse than nun.The year is 1939 and World War II is about to begin. Sister Luke, chafing at the constraints of the mother house, is drawn into the war in ways her convent never imagined or would sanction. She assists a young lay nurse, who looks up to her as a role model, to work for the Resistance. She is glad when a German woman dies in the convent hospital. And she is finally forced to see inside herself and realize that while she may be able to accept chastity and poverty, obedience is impossible. At this point Sister Luke realizes she can no longer go on living a lie. The scenes in which her confessor and Reverend Mother Emmanuel attempt to dissuade her from leaving the convent are the most powerful in the film. "You joined the convent to be a nun, not a nurse", remonstrates Reverend Mother. But this is precisely where she's wrong; Sister Luke is much more a nurse than she will ever be a nun. After 17 years at war with herself, Sister Luke signs the papers severing her from her convent, and goes out into the world.Hepburn's performance in a role which demands so much from her is incredible; we not only feel but share all her conflict and inner pain. There is no way she could come across as a plain, mousy nun (Hepburn would be drop-dead beautiful even in a burlap sack) but her acting is so convincing that we forget she is the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn and see her only as a soul in torment. Peter Finch is excellent as Dr. Fortunati and all of the minor characters are very well portrayed, but the real soul of the movie is Edith Evans as Reverend Mother Emmanuel, concerned with the spiritual health of her flock, and despairing yet fatalistic as one of her flock inexorably slips away. The movie is long (two and a half hours) but it's never boring; it grabs our interest from the opening frame and holds it to the final frame in which Hepburn turns a corner out of the convent grounds and out of our sight. The one jarring note, especially after 40 years, is the patronizing paternalism of the Belgian colonization in the Congo; except for the education and medical care provided by the Church, the cruelty of Belgian colonial occupation was legendary and makes us wonder what Sister Luke's fate would have been if she had returned to the Congo after she left the convent. At the end of the film we are left with great respect and admiration for an incredibly strong yet fallible young woman whose journey to self-knowledge is a life-long project."
Excellent depiction of faith and conflict
Elizabeth G. Melillo | 01/31/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The underlying themes of this film, most unfortunately, can be missed today, when the young cannot remember anything like the sort of nuns depicted (though, admittedly, presented here in a style melodramatic for any age), and the "life against nature" could be taken as having elements that would not have been considered when it was produced. As well, and as any Amazon list mania visitor can see, Audrey Hepburn is "favourite actress" of so many that the viewer can become too wrapped up in it's being a film featuring her that the overall messages become blurred.The main character, Sister Luke, is brilliantly portrayed by Audrey Hepburn, who captures, in expression particularly, the intense struggle of one whose dedication is enormous, but (to borrow the words of Dr Fortunati) cannot "fit the mould." In an era when nuns were not to admit, even to themselves, that professional achievement played any part in their choice of convent life, yet where (it is apparent) one who was not a nun had no chance for such positions as nursing supervisor in the Congo, the conflict depicted is absorbingly intense. Sister Luke is a brilliant and extremely devoted nurse, yet, while her faith is clear, she obviously is one who is accepting the (for her, extraordinary) burdens of vowed life for the sake of the nursing opportunities. From the beginning, the young nun who expresses her personal motto as "all or nothing" is in conflict with the obedience demanded by her Order's Rule, and specific practise of which, as some of the conversations, particularly those with the Abbess, bring forth, seem much at odds with the demands of the apostolic work (for example, having to observe silence when one is working a night shift in a hospital.) The viewer can see the sense of Sister Luke's position, and Audrey Hepburn's depiction of Sister Luke as gradually deteriorating with the inner conflict is superb. It is notable that Sister Luke, despite having achieved her desired goal of the Congo assignment, and being in a far less rigid atmosphere than elsewhere, feels the struggle most keenly after facing that there is no point where, as she'd hoped, obedience becomes natural.The depiction of convent life may not be far from the practise of some Orders in that era, but the action does cross the border into sheer melodrama. Where the same scenes exist in the book (which was based on a true story), some of them make less sense in the film version because details the reader would have known are eliminated. For example, in the original, Sister Luke is assigned to the mental sanitorium because she is the only Sister in transit with a diploma in psychiatric nursing, where the film, with its dramatic music as she receives word of the transfer, makes it appear that she is sent there as punishment for disobeying the ludicrous suggestion that she "fail her exams to shows humility." As well, with no reference to the experience in psychiatric nursing, the film's Sister Luke seems a naive young nurse left all alone in the ward with the dangerous patients, and whose opening the "Archangel's" padded cell was an act of misguided ignorance. Her castigating herself for her pride and disobedience seems cruel in the film, where, in the book, the dangerous "heroism" is indeed proud and reckless, since she had the background to know the possible consequences.The scenery, in both the Belgian and Congo sequences, is splendidly captured and has a powerful impact. One unexpectedly poignant feature is in seeing the depiction of the last years of the Belgian Congo, when both church and state were apparently strong. When Sister Luke's professor of tropical medicines speaks of how the Congo she would see in 1930 was far different from what he found 20 years earlier, one is reminded of how the security the colonials imagined they had then would be destroyed within a few decades.Overall, the outstanding cast and powerful cinematography (an example of the latter being the actions of Gabrielle's removing her jewellery on her entrance days, then leaving her ring and crucifix before she exits the convent), and a musical score which can occasionally be obtrusive but is generally effective, combine to give an excellent depiction of conflict - and of how, on any level, cherished ideals can be shattered, whether for an individual, a church congregation, or a nation."
An unusual Audrey Hepburn film.
JLind555 | 02/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Audrey Hepburn is best known for her light romantic comedies. Everybody loves them. She dresses up in some Givenchy outfits and blows the audience away with her beauty and charm. In "The Nun's Story" she completly sheds that image and immerses herself in the role of the conflicted Sister Luke, a Belgian nun torn by her obligations to her church and order, her duty to her patients as a nurse, and her duty to her country during the Nazi occupation.This a long and very introspective film that is not for everyone. It contains a detailed look at life in a Belgian convent and a Congo hospital in the years before WWII which may bore some people. Also some of Audrey's fans looking for her as Princess Anne or Sabrina Fairchild or Holly Golightly may be disappointed to find only the determined, reserved, and prideful Sister Luke. (Although Audrey does make radiant looking nun.) The length, the slowly paced style, the subject matter, and the unusual role for its star have combined to keep it off the list of Audrey Hepburn's best known films.Personally, I think this Audrey's greatest dramatic performance and maybe her best performance ever. She very ably conveys Sister Luke's inner conflict between her oath as a nun and her duties as a nurse, daughter, and Belgian citizen. That she is able to do so in a film that has long stretches where there is no dialogue is remarkable. She was nominated for Best Actress for this role, and she more than deserved to win, but came up short. "The Nun's Story" illustrates that Audrey Hepburn certainly had the ability to flesh out dramatic characters and that she was more than just a charming and beautiful woman in a Givenchy outfit. She was a great actor as well."
Finally on dvd
j in boston | 12/30/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When this film was released it was a huge success, in fact, it was, at the time, the highest grossing film ever released by Warner Bros. Had it not been released the same year as a little film called "Ben-Hur" it would probably have been the big Oscar winner for that year. It is a beautifully made film. One that I can not imagine being made today. It is not a a religous movie, although it is about religion. It is the story of one strong, intellegent woman's struggle to to be true to herself, while conforming to her society's (in this case her religous order's) expectations. The performances are exceptional and what would you expect with people like Edith Evans, Peter Finch, Coleen Dewherst. However, it is the glorious and powerful performance of Audrey Hepburn which makes this a truly great film. This is her greatest dramatic performance. Pay particular attention to the scene in which she is asked to fail an important exam. You can see layers of thought and turmoil in her eyes and body language and they all belong to the character, not the actress."
j in boston | 02/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THIS FILM IS A TRUE STORY....IN FACT, THE REAL SISTER LUKE, WHOSE NAME WAS MARIE-LOUISE HABETS NURSED AUDREY HEPBURN THROUGH A SERIES OF ILLNESSES. KATHRYN HULME, WHO WROTE THE BOOK, IN REAL LIFE WAS IN CHARGE OF THE UNDERGROUND NURSING STAFF TO WHICH SISTER LUKE WENT TO AFTER SHE LEFT THE CONVENT.....THE ACTING WAS GREAT AND KEPT ME MESMERIZED... THE FILM IS BASED ON ACTULAL EVENTS THAT THE REAL SISTER LUKE EXPERIENCED DURINT HER TIME IN THE CONVENT...... WHEN I WATCHED IT. I FORGOT THAT I WAS WATCHING A MOVIE..............IT IS LIKE LOOKING INTO ANOTHER PERSON'S SOUL.... THERE IS A GOOD BIOGRAPHY OF AUDREY WHERE FURTHER DETAILS CAN BE READ.......ALSO, YOU SHOULD READ THE NUN'S STORY....IT WOULD BE WELL WORTH YOUR WHILE."