Nun's Story, The (1959)

The Nun's Story (1959), directed by Fred Zinnemann.

A serious drama of the daughter of an eminent surgeon who becomes a nun with the goal of nursing in Africa. She has a serious vocation and applies herself dutifully and with humility, but obedience will always be a problem. It is not that she is rebellious, just that she cares more about her work than obeying the rules.

This is an Audrey Hepburn showcase, her chance to do something new. The nuns are required to be passive and unemotional, so she must use "small" acting and does very well, projecting spiritual maturity.

It is kept on a serious level and avoids the expected cliches: there is no romance with the handsome atheist doctor and we don't play up some weird psychodrama with the discipline of the nuns.

The order does have strict rules. It is not for everyone but they have their reasons for severe spiritual discipline. The women have to confess even minor breeches of pride and other faults, and must publicly accuse each other "with love". It would be easy to lampoon this but it is treated respectfully.

I did not know: women have to pay their dowry to the convent when they enter. It is refunded if they leave.

Based on a true story. Filmed partly in Africa.

Available on DVD.