The Portuguese Nun Review
Artificial Eye’s new release of The Portuguese Nun marks the first time a Eugène Green film has appeared on disc in the UK. Prior to this feature Green had been working behind the camera for almost a decade and before that had earned himself a reputation in the theatre as both playwright and director. Whilst British distributors failed to recognise his talents, the film festival circuit had noticed. Ironically, he picked up the FIPRESCI prize at the 2003 London Film Festival for his second feature, Le Monde vivant. With that said, it’s easy to see why there might be some trepidation in bringing Green to a wider audience. His style, honed since his theatrical days, is a distinctive one. It consists of perfectly composed tableaux where everything, down to the tiniest of movements, appears controlled (even a gust of wind). Every edit is exact and the dialogue is delivered with the utmost precision and politeness. Nobody talks over the other, unnatural sounding gaps between sentences are maintained and the dialogue itself is striking in its emotional honesty. At first glance the performances appear wooden such is the stark contrast to the realistic norms we are used to on our cinema screens, but soon enough it casts a very specific spell.
The Portuguese Nun is as enchanting as anything Green has committed to celluloid, though it also has a few other tricks up its sleeve. This is a film about filmmaking, specifically an actress on location in Lisbon, and therefore allows its director to exercise a certain self-reflexivity. Green plays the onscreen director too and peppers both his own dialogue, and that of his co-stars, with knowing winks towards his very particular style: after a spot of disco dancing he declares, “Hipness can be pretty depressing.” As a further gift to newcomers he also has the Portuguese climate and the beauty of its capital at night with which to entice. No Blu-ray, unfortunately, to make the most of the photography. But then perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that there is a DVD at all. The Portuguese Nun embarked on its low-key theatrical tour of the UK in early 2011, whilst the film itself was completed and premiered in 2009. We covered it at the Digital Fix during that run and so I refer you to Noel’s full-length review for further discussion. His thoughts, and final rating, are in total accordance with my own.
The Portuguese Nun looks suitably gorgeous on this Region 0 disc. Both image and soundtrack are pristine, offering up superb clarity and detail. Indeed, it’s hard to find fault other than the lack of a Blu-ray edition. (If it has taken this long for Green to find his way onto UK DVD, then surely a high definition offering was beyond hope.) Needless to say, original aspect ratio and the like are all maintained whilst the English subtitles are optional. Unfortunately, just the one extra in the form of the theatrical trailer. Given the lack of Green on disc here in the UK an additional short or two of his would have been especially welcome. The French edition of the film included his 2009 commission from the Jeonju International Film Festival in Korea, Correspondances, though the Artificial Eye disc wins out on price. Furthermore, many will simply be grateful that one of Green’s films had finally become available over here. Hopefully it will lead to further investigation and perhaps even a trawl through his back catalogue from one of our more adventurous labels.