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The Nun's Story (1959)

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With Scorsese's Silence looming, it seems like an opportune moment to reassess this somewhat forgotten masterpiece--perhaps the most serious film about religion ever made in Hollywood. Contra the facile moral victories of A Man for All Seasons (a film I still admire, mostly for its brilliant lead performance), the central quandary of The Nun's Story is never settled. In the marvelously ambiguous final scene, it is unclear whether Sister Luke (a never better Audrey Hepburn), who has struggled for seventeen years to attain spiritual perfection, has succeeded or not. And Zinnemann's visual approach, as Arthur Nolletti, Jr. has observed in his excellent essay on the film, is as formally extreme as the classical Hollywood style would allow. Comparisons to Dreyer, Bresson, and Ozu are not inappropriate.

The final shot continues to haunt me.

Edited by Nathaniel

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