Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977)

Also known as:
Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen
Love Letters from a Portuguese Nun

Jesus Franco's staggering filmic output would be a major project to cover for any collection of reviews such as this. All someone in my position can do is chip away now and again, and just enjoy the viewing process! Hopefully my readers will also enjoy the gradual exploration of good ol' Jess's masterpieces. Franco covered - and continues to cover - so many genres in his time that the Nunsploitation subgenre had to come up at some point - and Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is certainly an offbeat addition to the genre. Satan himself makes a decidedly odd appearance at one point and tips the proceedings into the truly bizarre.

In medieval Portugal, sixteen - or fourteen year old - depending on which subtitles you read - peasant girl Maria Rosalea (Susan Hemingway, who indeed looks very young) is caught being forcibly kissed by a local boy by the town priest, Father Vincente (William Berger). Father Vincente takes her back to her mother (Patricia Da Silva) and swindling her utterly, forces her to give him her life savings, in addition to Maria being sequestered into the local convent, under of the pretext of saving her soul. Tearfully the two women part and Vincente takes the "sinful" Maria away. Once there, Maria discovers, after being introduced to the Mother Alma (Ana Zanatti) and the other nuns, that the convent is not what it seems. Confined to a room, she hears strange sounds coming from another bedroom in the night. Mother Alma, also known as the Grand Priestess, is giving birth to puddles of blood and smoke as two young nuns Antonia and Josefina look on. Alma screams to the father, Satan, to let her complete the birth and give birth to a living being, to no avail. The two young nuns also make love to each other, keeping only their headgear on. Maria has been captured by a convent of Satanists!

As Maria becomes more and more concerned by the sordid atmosphere around her, Father Vincente forces her to fellate him at one point, reliving Maria's forced recollection of a dream she once had involving her cousin. The virginal girl is then subjected to a Satanic orgy by the vengeful devil-worshippers, being raped from behind by a man who appears to be Satan (Herbert Fux), who has hair-covered hands and a horn on his forehead. As the debauchery continues, she's propped up against Mother Alma, who extracts great pleasure from the girl's abuse. Maria's later thrown into a cell and the 'nuns' claim it was all a fever-dream.

Maria tries to escape the convent, but is brought back by the naive and grotesquely obese Mayor (Vítor Mendes). Writing an expose of the abbey to the outside world, Maria's letter is intercepted by one of the evil nuns and she is turned over to the Grand Inquisitor (Jose Viana), to keep her quiet. While not a Satanist, the Grand Inquisitor is single-minded about sin, and easily convinced by the evil duo of Father Vincente and Mother Alma of Maria's heresy. After being stripped, whipped and tortured with pincers, Maria is sentenced to be burned at the stake as witch. Abandoning hope, Maria writes a love-letter to God proclaiming her faith in him, and lets it fly in the wind outside her death-cell. Will this letter have any effect on the plot, or will Maria be consumed by the Grand Inquisitor's flames as a howling mob looks on?

A handsome production, it's obvious Franco's working with a reasonable budget this time around. It's lusciously photographed with an effective score, containing the odd bit of harpsichord music. Locales, costuming and sets are all high standard. The characters are all acted with conviction, particularly Susan Hemingway as Maria and William Berger as the corrupted priest Vincente. Hemingway actually makes you feel some sympathy as you watch the innocent Maria get abused, betrayed and defiled, and Berger's Vincente is a supremely slimy, self-serving character with virtually no redeeming qualities - yet also touches of patheticness. As far as Franco's vision is concerned, there's a fair bit of sordid imagination at work here, especially in the demonic orgy scenes. An entire convent of Satanists is a bit of a stretch to believe, but makes for an effective nunsploitation film! Unfortunately, I seemed to be watching a censored version as any scenes which seemed to build up to a nude shot of Hemingway we quickly cut away from. The other actresses were often shown naked, but I guess the age of Hemingway, or the age she appeared to be, was a problem in this particular version. Still, even in this mutilated form it's a wonderfully realized piece of debauched, historical drama that Franco's concocted here. I'd be interested in seeing the uncut version at a later date.

Perhaps not a great starting point for those interested in exploring Franco's oeuvre, I'd recommend it as a stop later in the journey ... or for those into Satanist Nuns.

© Boris Lugosi, 2006.

Home | Email

Review written: 07/11/2006 21:38:21