The Film (5/5)
Jess Franco died a little over one year ago now in April of 2013, as one of the last remaining auteurs of early EuroCult cinema it was a tragic loss, but being in his mid-80's, and having been in declining health for sometime it was hardly unexpected. If one is to find a silver lining in the dark cloud of Franco's tragic passing it would be that over his very long and prolific career the Spanish director left us with over 200 films (more if you qualify the varying cuts of some of his films) to explore and to enjoy for decades to come. Prior to his passing his films began to trickle on to the Blu-ray format with Redemption Films releasing his classics Female Vampire and Exorcism on to the format in October of 2012. However, it would be Ascot-Elite Films with their line of Franco Blu-ray's that have been keeping the maestro's work visible, and in very beautiful Blu-ray editions since late 2013. The series is working it's way down, and we have decided to go back, and review as many of these titles as time allows as these are some of the most gorgeous cult titles on the market, and they offer a great tribute to the late Jess Franco.
In 1973 Franco, in response to Ken Russell's the Devils Jess Franco would make a wonderful historically set Nunsploitation film entitled the Demons. It came as the wave of nunsploitation was about to explode in response to the Russell film, and offered a unique contribution to the genre at a time before it would become overstuffed with cookie cutter films. Franco would return to this territory 4 years later in the film Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun, a film that not only matches the greatness of his earlier work, but may exceed that films greatness. Understand that The Demons is one of Franco's most mature, and possibly one of his greatest films, which places Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun near the top of Franco's vast filmography.
Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is an interesting film from Franco, it is both a deeply mature film in both thematic content and style, and also completely off the walls in the way the best Jess Franco films tend to be. For example the scene with Maria having sex with the devil is completely off the rails, and is completely and utterly bizarre, and yet scenes like the one near the films conclusion where Maria writes her letter to God are some of the most emotionally powerful in Franco's filmography.
The cinematography captured here offers a rich, warm, vibrant style that helps to show off the wonderful locations used by Franco in the film. The acting especially in the German dubbed version of the film is excellent across the board, with a subtle and sad performance from Hemingway, to a pair of intense performances from William Berger and Ana Zanatti as Father Vicente and the Mother Superior respectively.
Love Letters of a Portugeuse Nun features Susan Hemingway as Maria Rosalea Coutinho, a young woman who as the film opens is frolicking in the woods with her boyfriend. She is spotted in this near-sex situation by Father Vicente who is the head of a local convent. He stops the pair before they can commit any sexual act, and reprimands Maria for the way she conducted herself. He then takes her to her poor, suffering Mother, and explains that Maria would be better off in the convent he presides over. Father Vicente manages to not only convince her to allow Maria to go with him, but to give him the only money she has saved for a rainy day. Unfortunately for Maria, it turns out the convent is not a place of quiet contemplation and worship of her God, but a place where Father Vicente, and the Mother Superior lead the Nuns in the worship of Satan and a life of sexual debauchery. After one night where Maria is forced into a ceremony where she is raped by the Devil himself (Frank Lux), she makes a failed attempt to contact her Mother by letter, and then a failed escape attempt where she confesses to the wrong person, and ends up back at the convent. Maria, is then brought forth before the Grand Inquisitor where she is tried for being possessed by the devil, and found guilty. She attempts to bring down the Father and Mother Superior with her, but when she is tortured by them recants. In the day before her trial, she writes one last letter detailing her situation, this one to God.
Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is presented by Ascot Elite Films in a fantastic 1:78:1 1080p transfer. The transfer preserves the warm, dark, natural look of the film. It offers nice black levels, excellent color reproduction, accurate flesh tones, and excellent fine detail.
There are multiple language options on the Blu-ray German DTS-HD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0. English and Italian DTS-HD 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0. I stuck to the German language track (5.1) with English subs. The dialogue was highly audible and clear throughout, as was the score and effects. I did not detect and issues with the audio.
The extras include an audio interview with Franco, a trailer reel, featurette on the film, a photo gallery, and the films original trailer.
Love Letters of a Portugeuse Nun is top tier Franco. It is both completely off the wall bizarre, and some of Franco's most mature work. The Blu-ray from Ascot Elite is gorgeous. The Blu-ray comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.