The Portuguese Nun* Review

The Portuguese Nun film still


Playful and witty, Eugène Green's first film to find UK distribution is simply unmissable.

After a 10-year wait, The Portuguese Nun is the first of visionary French filmmaker Eugène Green’s four features to be theatrically released in the UK.

Filmed in Green’s characteristically idiosyncratic and contemplative style, The Portuguese Nun tells the story of Julie, a French actress of Portuguese descent, who, visiting Lisbon for the first time – to play the role of a local nun who fell in love with a French soldier – finds herself at the axis of a swirl of identities.

Although located in the present day, in The Portuguese Nun, myth, folklore, history, past and present co-exist, so that the film acquires the timeless quality that characterises Green’s instantly recognisable world.

Like a medieval she-knight, Julie embarks on a solitary journey of self-discovery. In her search for the ultimate Holy Grail – herself – she’ll have a mysterious encounter with a suicidal count, an orphaned boy, his impoverished carer, an errant soldier, a forever missing king and, most significantly, with her mirror-image, a real Portuguese nun she observes praying in a chapel each night.

Her journey will be punctuated by Fado singers, who, as modern-day troubadours, will voice Julie’s innermost feelings in their lyrics – some set to poems written by Fernando Pessoa.

Exquisitely shot, this is an ode to Lisbon and altruistic love; but it is also a reflection on the process of filmmaking and a tribute to those who make the magic of film happen. In a conscious gesture, Green repeatedly turns the camera onto his team and hence to the process, the journey, the discovery, the interpretation and the fictional recreation of reality that film-making itself implies – which here echo those same journeys and discoveries in which we reinvent ourselves in life until we are ready to face and accept our own path.

At the beginning of her journey, Julie says, "I’ll be discovering Lisbon", and sure enough, her destiny will entail the symbiosis between this city, the fictional and the real Portuguese nun, and herself.

In the end, her initial solitude will not equate to loneliness, but to that sense of being at peace when finding and accepting yourself through loving others – so selflessly that you disappear.

View 8 comments

David Tocano

4 years ago
Looks pretentious judging from the trailer! I think you must have a thing for Eugene and maybe there is a reason this is the first UK release! I must say you haven't exactly hooked me in with the fact that 'Her journey will be punctuated by Fado singers' - but I'm sure they will be queueing around the block at Leicester Square for this one and prove me wrong.


4 years ago
David, perhaps you should see the movie prior to making judgements on it and the subsequent review (presuming the reviewer has seen it).


4 years ago
I saw the movie at the 2009 London Film Festival and, well, David's on the right track.

I usually agree with LWL reviews, more or less, but, man, not here. I had no interest, I didn't care for the pathetic, dull, cardboard characters and as for the amazing filmmaking, exploitation of the area aside (this is a capital city, though; hardly an artistically revolutionary location), I must have missed that part. Empty, pretentious crap made for film critics. Sorry.

Simply avoid.

David Tocano

4 years ago
Hi Liv, The review was pretentious, the trailer looks pretentious so I'm going to take a stab in the dark that the film also is pretentious. Also Mar gives such a short review, the trailer is also very thin on character or story that I'm also judging that the film has little substance or real narrative otherwise Mar would have more to say about the film! But I take your point I should really see the film first...but then again I probably won't!

Anton Bitel

4 years ago
Any assertion that a film is good (or bad, or middling) surely must involve subjectivity. The moment a film is evaluated (and all LWLies' reviews are in part evaluative), a certain element of objectivity is sacrificed, because whenever you say that a film is good, you are (normally) expressing your own enjoyment of the film. You may well not agree with Mar (although we'll never really know unless you see the film) - but that does not make Mar's appraisal of the film somehow more subjective than anyone else's (including Patrick's non-prejudicial view, and your own entirely prejudicial one).

It is, however, unfair to suggest that Mar's review somehow restricts itself to gushing praise ("a totally subjective love letter") and "doesn't offer the reader any evidence to back it up." On the contrary, Mar's piece is full of interpretative and analytic detail. Don't believe me? Read it again. You just do not think that you are going to like what Mar plainly does (allegorical quests, ludic wit, 'ode to Lisbon', reflections on film and life, lavish visuals, emotional intensity) - but in that case, surely the review does its work, advertising what kind of film the The Portuguese Nun is, what kinds of pleasure it offers, and whether it is the kind of film that you want to watch - or not.


4 years ago
I think what I can 'non-prejudicially' but of course 'subjectively' say is that I see a big gap in the quality of the reviewing of The Portuguese Nun (which I find thin and not full of interpretative and analytic detail) and the Black Swan review in LWL by Matt Bochenski - which gives a much more nuanced review to my mind and gives me some real depth of opinion on the film from which I can base my choice of going to see the film or not. It has some meat on the bone! I reckon Mar knocked the Portuguese Nun review out on a Blackberry over cocktails with Eugene Green. D

Mark Brown

4 years ago
One goes online at one's peril! I google the movie, plus Glasgow, in an attempt to find out when and where the film is on in my city, only to be subjected to a moron (David Tocano) who feels qualified to comment on a film he hasn't seen, and another moron (Patrick) who defends Tocano's right to blind review movies.


4 years ago
People truly are often blinded by ignorance! David and Patrick you ought to look at yourselves first before making the pretentious assumption that what you say has any value and/or will even ever register on the minds of others. Stop projecting your deluded need for an audience and see more films! Stop trying to be the centre of attention and just be a viewer, narcissism is an ugly flaw. :) meowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww
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