REVIEW: SACRED FLESH
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all content © A.E.M. Baumann
2000 (75 min)
written by: Nigel Wingrove
starring: Sally Tremaine, Moyna Cope
– some editing, Jan. 23, 2015
I am more than willing to watch low budget films. You never know what you might find.
This little film is a mix of theological dialogue with some visual play and small bits of soft core sex (only the nuns get naked); though, the far majority of the film is simply two (or three) people talking. Nearly all the action occurs as images in accompaniment to the dialogue. The primary event is that the mother superior of a nunnery is scaring the sisters with rantings of visions and condemnations of illicit goings on between the nuns (which did in fact occur, and to which she is privy through confessions and such). Scenes rather like this:
And that is the style of most of those scenes, varying only in the number of nuns involved and what, exactly, they are doing.
The movie opens on a letter sent by an elderly abbess to a neary abbot, who comes to the nunnery to see what is going on. Though, all the abbot does is talk: at first to his servent at thier monestary, then with the servant on the road, and then with the abbess while walking about the abbey grounds, which lasts the rest of the movie. That takes up about a third of the movie.
While this is going on, we a let in on the visions of the mother superior -- which is the another third of the movie. And they are conversations between the mother superior and Mary Magdelene (accompanied alternately by a red, female demon or a green I do not know what).
There is also debate betwen the mother superior and a skull faced woman, who is a bit more severe in her verbal assaults.
The final third of the movie (and these are, of course, all woven together) is shots of the nuns engaged in various sexual acts or self flaggelation or such. And I have to say, Wingrove successfully avoids going over the top or overly blatant on most of these, making for some interesting (albeit low budget and indie) visuals. (Though, not all -- the scene with three nuns abducting a fourth wholly falls apart.)
Most of the movie, however is dialogue/debate about the issue of chasitity within nunneries, and (on the part of the abbot) if that was possibly a worse issue for the church than the secret sex, something being evidenced by the outbreaks of hysteris in abbeys and nunneries across Europe. The same issue is debated by the mother superior and the enthroned Mary Magdelene, though at a personal level, with the Magdalene trying to get the nun to release herself to her own desires, though arguing from the same point that it is unhealthy to keep them in (and, obviously, as far as the sisters go, not working).
It is a curious movie for how much of the film is moral/theological debate. It never goes into dogma or more technical aspects of theology, but it does stay above the blather that constitutes most films. That is, there is actual discussion and debate. While the end result of the film is that it is a long, extended pbs show (with albeit odd characters) interspersed with shots of lovely nuns doing various doings (and shots of mother superior expressing her spiritual anguish) and so for the most part disjointed in its pacing (though, at times, well blended visually), I was pondering throughout the film whether the idea could be pulled off successfully: discussion interspersed with images without it being blunt "cut to flashback!" type meldings.
I have to say, this is an interesting go at it (and an interesting attempt at the vision world having a backdrop of Latin text -- which gets a little annoying after a bit). I wouldn't exactly recommend this: the dialog gets monotonous after a while (especially between the abbot and the abbess). But, as an experiment in erotic horror, it is worth the look.