The chances are you have no intention of watching The Portuguese Nun, an obscure French and Portuguese production shown for a brief period last month at the ICA in London. But then you probably didn’t see Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl on a whim last year either. We did and we loved it in a curious way, fueling an intrigue in obscure Portuguese cinema that led to us back at the ICA for a film about a nun.
More accurately the film is about an actress playing a nun, an actress who enjoys walking very slowly around places and talking in an odd monotone fashion. In fact, everyone walks slowly and talks in an odd monotone fashion. After researching the film it turns out that this isn’t bad acting, just an incredibly stylised film.
The film is a very long two hours, everything happens at the slowest possible pace and often scenes are padded out with long shots with no action, or even an actor in it. One particular scene in which the actress discusses the nature of life and love with an actual Portuguese nun is painfully slow to the point of becoming torturous, and in total we are treated to full performances of three songs with no distraction.
What saves the film, or at least helps you through the experience, are the rare moments of hilarious dialogue, made all the funnier for their deadpan delivery. A particular highlight is the film’s director, played by the real film’s director Eugène Green, who brings a sense of playfulness to the heavy affair.
With characters staring directly at the camera and commenting on how they find French films boring, it is hard to tell just how seriously to take this post-modern film, exactly the same problem we had with Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl.
Would we recommend The Portuguese Nun? Most likely not, but the next time a Portuguese film appears at the ICA we may well find ourselves in the audience.