Behind Convent Walls - Lilith Likes to Watch Nunvember 2021

Title: Behind Convent Walls aka Interno di un Convento
Year: 1978
Starring: Ligia Branice, Howard Ross, Marina Pierro
Director: Walerian Borowczyk
Synopsis: A zealous, handsome priest, who is the confessor for a convent full of women, encourages the equally zealous abbess of the institution to enforce strict rules on these unfortunate women. At the same time, a particularly disturbed nun manages to poison herself and many of the other novitiates in yet another scandal which is covered up by church authorities. - Via Letterboxd
Lilith's Notes: It's Borowczyk does nuns.

"Penetrate me with your grace into my adoring soul."

So, Borowczyk, we meet again.

I've only reviewed one of his films so far, the gorgeous Immoral Tales. Having experienced that film, I was very much looking forward to some beautiful blasphemy.

The movie starts out showing us the day in the life of a convent. The nuns seem content as they gently gossip or tease each other. They discuss frivolities like the delight that is hot chocolate. They care for one another by sharing items such as sun hats, because pale ladies burn quicker out in the sun. They play joyful music and dance as they do their chores. It's all very innocent and evokes a feeling of sisterhood that I don't think I've ever seen in another movie featuring nuns. Even Sister Act was kind of snippy.

Enter Mother Superior (Played by Gabriella Giacobbe), who brings the mood whiplash as she admonishes them for their innocent fun. She takes the violin from one of the nuns who screams she will kill herself without her violin. The villain of the movie, everybody!

Or is she?

Unfortunately, this movie left me confused. I found the plot difficult to follow. Maybe that's because I watched an English dub? Or maybe it's because the uniformity of nuns make it difficult to tell who is who.

But the men, Silva (Played by Alex Partexano), the Count, (Played by ???) and Rodrigo (Played by Howard Ross), look identical too so that didn't help.

This movie is a nightmare for someone with face blindness.

One sister was fucking Silva. I think. Or was he assaulting her? 

One was in love with Count Paolo who has to go to America.

And one sister is in love with Christ and wishes to be his bride.

Have I got this right? 

Wait, are Count Paolo and Rodrigo the same person?

Fuck the plot, let's just look at the pretty nunsploitation on the screen. Of which there is disappointingly little. What there is, I found enjoyable. Sister Clara and Paolo fornicate behind a large cross-stitch loom, leaving a lot to the audience's imagination. It's a creative use of an unusual but fitting set piece. Two nuns rub one another's breasts while the rest of the sisters folic to the violin and church organ. Our violin-playing nun humps her beloved instrument in a scene that really must be much, much longer. Much longer.

And of course, the infamous dildo scene.

One of the sisters, the one who loves Christ, finds a hefty stick and fashions it into a phallus, with the likeness of Jesus' face on it. Which she uses on herself. The mother superior finds her and demands to know what the object is for. The sister demonstrates. The Mother Superior screams at her.

From there, things escalate. People yell a lot. People die. People kill...

When planning Nunvember I watched a small handful of movies. I also watched School of the Holy Beast and The Devils, which, like this film, were staples of the nunsploitation genre. I passed them over because I just didn't have anything interesting to say about either film. 

But those films did not leave me as confused and lost as this one. How can a film so lauded as a tentpole for a whole subclass of films be so obtuse?

Behind Convent Walls is barely titillating, and very murky, story-wise. There is an authentic look and feel to the location, costumes, props and set-pieces. Sometimes colours absolutely pop, like the wood brown of the violin, or a sister's pink lips, or the red of a flower. Other times it seems extremely washed out. 

The more I think about this movie, the more I hunt for clarity or at least a plot synopsis, the more jaded I become to it. There's no Wikipedia page, there's half-empty IMDB listings, and unhelpful Letterboxd reviews. I sought guidance and the Internet abandoned me in my hour of need.

I've seen Borowczyk take a period in time and make it into something hauntingly lovely and transgressive and uncanny. I expected to see the same thing here. I did not, and I am truly forsaken.

Best Moment: The violin humping scene. You were probably expecting me to say the dildo scene.

Worst Moment: The gradual sense of confusion as the film goes on.


Until next time, my voracious voyeurs. I’m Lilith, and I’m always watching.

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