The Portuguese Nun

A French film actress named Julie de Hauranne (played by Leonor Baldaque) arrives in contemporary Lisbon for her part in a costume drama and immediately falls into some sort of trance. Her wide-eyed gaze is almost Bressonian in its intensity, and she interacts with others in an almost ritualistic manner. She also looks directly at the camera while delivering her excessively formal, rather strained line readings. Julie evidently has an unhappy love life back home in Paris, a condition the romantic Portuguese capital only seems to emphasize. While waiting for filming to begin, she somnambulates sadly through the picturesque settings by herself, gradually meeting a succession of characters: an aristocratic, suicidal local man; the movie's handsome male lead; the film-within-a-film's director (writer-director Eugène Green, essentially playing himself), who has a glint of mischief in his eyes; and the enigmatic title character, Sister Joana, who stays up all night praying in the convent where Julie and her cast are filming. Julie also encounters a solitary young local boy named Vasco (Francisco Mozos) and instantly bonds with him. What does it all mean? Filmmaker Green enjoys arranging detours off Julie's path of self-discovery. Even though there's no apparent irony in her story, Green begs us to have a laugh, as when the hotel desk clerk informs Julie: “I never see French films. They're for intellectuals.” Baldaque's will-o'-the-wisp performance, Green's scenario, and the fado music of singers Aldina Duarte and Camané combine to cast a palpable spell.

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