Margaret Betts‘ Novitiate is about various repressions (mostly spiritual) visited on a group of young women who’ve committed to be nuns-in-training, or novitiates. It’s mostly set in 1964, which is when various Vatican-led reforms, known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, were being implemented.
It’s a reasonably well done thing, a little eccentric, a little Sundance-y but not bad. And boy, does it have a hot lesbo scene in the third act! And this new Sony Pictures Classics trailer doesn’t even hint at this. Why, Michael and Tom? What do you have against lesbo tingles? Straight guys the world over eat this shit up, and you won’t even allude to it?
Right off the top you’re going “hmmm, possibly an austere Robert Bresson-like film about the denials, devotions and disciplines of the life of a young would-be nun.” The young protagonist is Cathleen (Margaret Qualley, 22 year-old daughter of Andie McDowell), and over the course of this 123-minute film “her faith is challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a nun,” etc.
The strongest supporting performances are from Melissa Leo as Reverend Mother (basically doing the same kind of thing that Meryl Streep did in Doubt, only with a heavier hand), Julianne Nicholson as Qualley’s skeptical, non-religious mom, and Denis O’Hare as an Archbishop pressuring Leo into adopting Vatican II’s more liberal “suggestions” about how to run things.
I’m not saying Novitiate is mostly or even partly an erotic thing, but that third-act scene…yowsah! The old axiom about “the stronger the constraints, the hotter the eroticism” certainly applies here. After the Sundance showing I asked around and everyone agreed this was the stand-out — trust me.