Monday, June 18, 2012

#672. Behind Convent Walls (1978)

Directed By: Walerian Borowczyk

Starring: Ligia Branice, Howard Ross, Marina Pierro

Trivia:  Luciano Tovoli, who also worked behind the camera on Suspiria, was this film's cinematographer

With cinematography by Luciano Tovoli, who’s worked alongside such noteworthy filmmakers as Dario Argento (on Suspiria) and Michelangelo Antonioni (on The Passenger), director Walerian Borowczyk’s Behind Convent Walls is a beautiful motion picture, one that just happens to tell the story of a group of nuns who can't keep their clothes on.

Based on a story in Stendahl’s “Promenades dans Rome”, Behind Convent Walls is among the finest nunsploitation films ever made, with some of the horniest nuns ever to grace the big screen. The Mother Superior (Gabriella Giacobbe) sure has her hands full with this rowdy bunch, and does what she can to keep their hyperactive libidos in check. Thank goodness she has her niece, Sister Clara (Ligia Branice), to rely upon, whose piety makes her a role model for the other girls. That is, until the arrival of Rodrigo (Howard Ross), the nephew of the Father Confessor (Mario Maranzana). Having taken up temporary residence at the convent to study in their library, Rodrigo falls head over heels in love with Sister Clara, and she, in turn, might be harboring some feelings for him as well.

Behind Convent Walls opens innocently enough, with a man named Silva (Alex Partexano) delivering a side of beef to the convent. The setting is very “old-world”, with creaking wooden doors and long hallways illuminated by natural light. We follow Silva as he carries the carcass into the kitchen, where several of the Sisters are in the process of making bread (Silva even wears dark glasses, placed on his head when he first arrived, to avoid being “tempted” by the Sisters). We then move outdoors to a picturesque garden, where a handful of nuns are tending to the flowers. I was struck by the look of the film in these early scenes, the camera moving freely throughout, revealing colors so natural they spill brilliantly off the screen. By this point, Behind Convent Walls was every bit an exposé of life in a European convent, where nothing extraordinary ever happens. Of course, this is all an illusion; a wonderfully realized deception, but a deception nonetheless, and before long, the debauchery will be in full swing.

And how kinky does Behind Convent Walls get? Without going into too much detail, here are a few examples of what transpires once the good Sisters let their habits down: One nun, inspired by the beautiful music emanating from the chapel, lies on her back and starts doing leg exercises, her skimpy undergarments failing to completely conceal her most private of areas. But this pales in comparison to some of the other “activities”, including Sister Lucretia’s sexual encounters with a local man she smuggles into the convent, and Sister Martina’s (Loredana Martinez) affair with Silva. There’s also a scene involving a small piece of wood, which breaks through an upstairs window as Silva is chopping branches below, that’s gathered up by one of the Sisters and whittled down (with the help of several shards of broken glass) into a dildo. We even get to watch as she eventually tests her new toy, which she does with extreme vigor.

Behind Convent Walls is a rare blend of European Art-House cinema and exploitation sleaze, and what’s truly fascinating is how it proves a shining example of both.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely superb film, and probably the best, in the minor category of nunsploitation.

If you ever have time I'd definitely recommend that you check out Flavia The Heretic, and Nude Nuns With Big Guns.

Steve D. said...

This is a movie I actually showed at the Twisted Spoke (on 18 February 2006).
Here is how I synopsized it:
"Behind Convent Walls" [1977: Italy. Producer: Giuseppé Vezzani. Director: Walerian Borowczyk. Run Time: 90½' {widescreen}]
Featuring: Ligia Branice, Marina Perro, Gabriella Giacobbe, Olivia Pascal, Loredana Martinez, Alessandro Partexano, Paola Arduini, Silvano Bernabei, Stefanio D'Amario
Howard Ross, Rodolfo Del Prá, Mario Maranzana, Brid Cranitch, Mike Morris

I recently learned that Walerian Borowczyk passed away. I suspect you have heard this name. W. Borowczyk directed one of the most notorious “arthouse erotica” movies, "La Beté". Here is another movie he got to make after that one. This one pushes your emotional buttons by setting the movie inside a religious convent. It's another "Nunsploitation" feature. Of import to you and I is that this is the seldom-screened version with genuine explicit activity.

A convent has its seamy underbelly provocatively exposed. Our females are struggling with the dichotomy of servitude to the Lord and exploring their simmering sexuality. We glimpse intimate details of their toil. W. Borowczyk delves upon the facets of a cloistered life to point out how many “spiritual” tasks have carnal, erotic foundations. A fair comparison can be divined between this movie and a women-in-prison exploitation release. But, because he is an auteur, W. Borowczyk gets away with imagery for which Jess Franco & Joe D'Amato would be crucified (oops).

Our nuns' habits are in basic black & white. So watch for all the scenes where a red substance is lensed. The movie has two plot twists which pull out the rug from under you. In the first: A nun somehow becomes pregnant. In the second: Another nun develops the stigmata. Both of these herald a profound change in the daily lives of those in the convent.