Wednesday, July 06, 2016


Set in northern Italy in the early 1600s, The True Story of the Nun of Monza relates the sad but sexy convent life of the daughter of that city's feudal lord. She is dowered into the care of the nuns by her father to remove her from the temptations of the world. This seems to have been a good idea, as the newly christened Sister Virginia de Leyve (Zora Kerova) has very vivid dreams of humiliation by the nuns and of herself in a nude embrace with men. When these dreams culminate in Jesus stepping down from the crucifix to allow the kneeling girl to kiss his stomach, you know she has some problems with fornication. Not that she's alone in this in the convent... 

We quickly learn that several of the nuns sleep with each other on a regular basis as well as slipping away in the night to visit men. This hidden sexual life extends to the local priest (Giovanni Attanasio) as well, who is carrying on a long-term relationship with one of the more beautiful nuns. Not content to sleep with his beloved, the priest lusts after Virginia. After a drunken night of debauchery with some wealthy friends, he tries to rape the poor girl in the confessional booth. That he's costumed in a red devil outfit at the time only adds to the bizarre nature of the sequence, driving the symbolism home with a hammer.

It briefly looks like Virginia is also going to be pursued by one of the priest's rich wastrel friends, Giampaolo Osio (Mario Cutini), an aristocrat with a quick temper and the blood of a few dueling opponents on his hands. But this budding scheme comes to a halt when news arrives of her father's death. This makes Virginia the new noble Lady of Monza, with the power to have herself elected to replace the elderly, ailing Mother Superior. To this end she enlists fellow nun Benedetta (Paolo Montenero) as her second in command, which turns out to be a mistake. The priest and his lover fear the new leader will discover their secret and so blackmail secret lesbian Benedetta to help them set her up. They lure the new Mother Superior to a quiet location in the convent and watch while Osio rapes her. Sadly reinforcing every misogynistic thought about women, Virginia becomes Osio's willing lover and eventually realizes she's pregnant.

Her condition is kept quiet and when the child is stillborn she prays for forgiveness. Proclaiming not to love Osio any longer, she vows to mend her ways. But young novitiate Margherita (Leda Simoneti), who midwifed the baby, threatens to reveal everyone's dirty secrets unless she is given whatever she wants. Mere moments after Osio silences the girl the Inquisitor shows up to strip away all deceit and wield the mighty sword of Church justice.

The Nunsploitation genre is one I've never really understood. Not being Catholic, I don't have any childhood fears, erotic or otherwise, linked to the sight of women covered from head to toe in black drapery. Nor do I attribute these "Brides of Christ" any special reverence that would cause the sight of them acting with sexual abandon to be more alluring than any other attractive woman. Sadly this lack of any Catholic background or even direct knowledge of the religion seems to blunt the titillation factor of these films. This means that, for me, they succeed or fail solely on their merits as well told stories. Unfortunately this film lacks a strong narrative line which blunts any sense of forward momentum. Until the final 20 minutes the movie has almost no drive making it feel more like a series of anecdotes rather than a story with a purpose. As a matter of fact I'm sure that you could scramble the order of about 10 scenes in the middle of the film without changing the structure of the tale or the tragic arc Virginia follows. The overwhelming feeling for most of the film was of drifting from scene to scene with little forward impetus. It was as if we were simply seeing incidents along a timeline with only a few connecting threads until the pregnancy occurs and the heavy duty guilt kicks in. I guess this might be a case of adhering to the facts of the historical events they are supposed to be dramatizing but it makes for a rambling, occasionally dull movie.

I guess I was expecting something sleazier as this was directed under a pseudonym by Bruno Mattei (as "Stefan Oblowsky"). His other films from the same period are trashy glories brimming with nastiness that he seems to relish wallowing in for the sake of cheap thrills. Maybe that’s the reason for the false name on the credits- to distance The True Story of the Nun of Monza from his other work. But it's strange that this well-mounted but mostly flat film would be attributed to a fictitious person while his junk film epics like Rats and SS Girls sport his given name. I wonder which he's more proud of when he looks back.


Unknown said...

I could have sworn Rats was under his Vincent Dawn pseudonym.

Rod Barnett said...

Hum.... coulda been.