Review: Novitiate tells an enthralling story inside a cloistered convent
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
3 out of 4 stars
A breathy whisper: "You're all I could ever want." The erotic refrain spoken in voiceover in Margaret Betts's feature film Novitiate isn't meant to fall upon the ears of man or woman. This sweet nothing is meant for God. It comes from the rosebud lips of Sister Cathleen (Margaret Qualley, stealing the show), a young American nun-in-training who is hot for the Almighty.
Set in the 1960s when the Catholic Church in Rome adopted a number of reforms known as Vatican II (a sort of modern rebrand, Vatican 2.0 if you will), Betts's film takes her audience into a cloistered convent an ocean away. The convent's old-school Reverend Mother (played with just the right amount of theatrics by Melissa Leo) thinks change is for the weak and that the Sisters of the Blessed Rose are doing just fine in the confines of tradition.
Floating in between the dramatic and the campy, Novitiate doesn't tell a straightforward story of love and sacrifice, of faith and its crises. Betts's film is ritualistic and enthralling, with a complex feminism woven into its cloth and it's something of a blessing. Bridget Mary's Response: I look forward to seeing this movie when it comes to U.S. theaters. Many of the nuns I entered in the convent with in 1966 may relate to the spirituality described above and the transitions that led to a mass exodus in the 1970's and 1980's!