Enchantment by Donald Spoto

Enchantment by Donald Spoto

Author:Donald Spoto
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780307352064
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Published: 2006-09-19T04:00:00+00:00

APART FROM ITS sustained reflection on the primacy of conscience, The Nun’s Story is a tender elegy for a kind of religious life that once was the norm among certain groups of nuns, but is now rarely found in the Roman Catholic Church. The practice of humiliations, the suppression of personality, the attempt to put aside normal human feelings and the unnatural efforts even to ignore one’s own past: these were, from about the seventeenth century in Europe and later in America, taken for granted as guaranteed paths to holiness in some religious orders of monks and nuns. To good effect, almost every community later abandoned those practices, under encouragement from the Vatican itself. The Nun’s Story and Audrey’s recognizably human Sister Luke offered neither a gratuitous endorsement nor a smug disapproval of this rarefied life of long ago.

When the picture was released, one of the director’s advisers—a nun named Mother Marie-Edmond—wrote to Zinnemann from her Paris convent after seeing the film with her community. Her critical comments represent the common judgment of European and American religious women in 1959:

The discipline of postulants seems exaggerated—at times, it looks like living in barracks! And everything seems directed toward personal perfection [rather than] the love of God. Audrey Hepburn realizes her difficult part admirably and with perfect tact. There is nothing ridiculous about her or any other actress, whereas most pictures portraying nuns do not avoid that danger…But Sister Luke and the other nuns give the impression of living under constraint: they quench everything which is simply human and they seem just to live through formalities and routines (except in the Congo). They have hardly any friendly relations. This is sometimes a little true of the religious life, which necessarily imposes certain constraints on the novices, but this is totally false as to the whole of the life.

Audrey’s achievement was indeed “realized admirably”—in fact, it was nothing short of inspired. She had neither a sophisticated wardrobe by Givenchy nor even an Edith Head suit to command viewers’ attention—indeed, only her remarkable face and her expressive, delicate hands were visible. Instead of high key lighting to glamorize her, there were only the lineaments of her own inner life: she created a compelling portrait of spiritual anguish and maturing integrity, and this she accomplished only with her eyes and the subtlest gradations of expression; almost everything was internal.

This was a performance vastly superior to any other before or after in her career; in fact, it is defensible that Audrey Hepburn’s Sister Luke is one of the greatest performances in the history of film. Not only is the character far more profound that anyone she ever portrayed: she also located correspondences within herself that revealed, possibly far beyond her realization, some of the depths of Audrey Hepburn, and what she took with utmost gravity in her life.

Almost always, while watching movies, viewers make adjustments of perception, trying to close the gap between actor and role; but for the most part, we watch actors pretending to


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