"Novitiate" (2017 release; 123 min.) brings the story of Kathleen. As the movie opens, we are told it is "1964" and we get to know Kathleen as she is in a nuns' convent. "I was 17 when I entered the convent, 18 when I started the novitiate. We are all women in love." Wow. We then go to "Ten Years Earlier", as we get to know young Kathleen and her mother, and how Kathleen becomes interested in Catholic school, then the Catholic faith, and eventually the Catholic church. At this point we are 10 min, into to movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the feature length debut of writer-director Maggie Betts, And what a debut it is! Betts takes a close look at what the road is like towards becoming a nun, with a 6 months postulate and then the 18 months novitiate. These are all young women with an idealistic view of the Catholic church. In a parallel story, Betts also examines the consequences of the Vatican II reforms. The Reverend Mother who runs the convent is entirely opposed to any ref0rms. "Isn't the church just perfect as it is?", she retorts when a younger nun questions her. As one might expect, the pace of the movie is quite slow and deliberate, so this isn't for anyone in a hurry. At times it almost feels like a documentary. I was bowled over by it all, to be honest, and felt deeply invested into these characters. There are a number of scenes in the movie that will break your heart (the disbelief of Kathleen's mother upon learning what Kathleen intends to do with her life; the "chapel of faults"--I shan't say more...). As it plays out, one can't help but be reminded of "The Nun's Story" starring Audrey Hepburn (when asked why she decided to become a nun, one of the young ladies refers to that movie). The movie is helped enormously by several towering performances: Melissa Leo as the Reverend Mother is outstanding, but even better is Margaret Qualley as Kathleen (in one of her first movie roles--she is best known for her recurring role in HBO's The Leftovers). Qualley reminded me physically immediately of a younger Kirsten Stewart. The range of emotions that Qualley is able to convey on the big screen makes it very clear to me that this is a major up-and-coming talent, the last of which we surely haven't seen. Same can be said of writer-director Maggie Betts. If it sounds like I am gushing about this movie, you bet I am. This movie is for me one of the best I have seen this year.
"Novitiate" premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival to immediate critical acclaim. No idea why it's taken so long to reach my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, but better late than never. The Saturday evening screening where I saw this at was attended very nicely. You could hear a pin drop, as the theater was enraptured by this film. If you are in the mood for a probing psychological drama that poses some serious questions about religion and faith and features several stunning acting performances, you cannot go wrong with this, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray. "Novitiate" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!