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Die Liebesbriefe einer Portugiesischen Nonne aka Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (German Blu-ray Review)

NOTE: Due to German censorship laws, the FSK has placed this blu-ray release on its index. That means that Ascot Elite is not permitted to advertise or sell it anywhere in Germany, including Amazon.de.

Readers who want to purchase this blu-ray and other German blu-rays that have been placed on the FSK index, can go to https://www.best-trade.de. You will have to register an account to verify your age.

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Jess Franco
Cast: Susan Hemingway, William Berger, Herbert Fux, Ana Zanatti
Year: 1977
Length: 89 min
Rating: FSK 18
Region: Free
Disks: 1
Label: Ascot Elite Home Entertainment
Release Date: Mar 25, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio: English, German, Italian: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
German, Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, Japanese

Extras
  • Memories of a Portuguese Nun – a 12-minute featurette consisting of interviews with Jess Franco, Erwin C. Dietrich, Peter Baumgartner, Herbert Fux, and Lina Romay
  • Audio interview with Jess Franco (in French)- 40-minutes
  • Video Q&A with Jess Franco, Lina Romay, and Herbert Fux – 5-minutes
  • Trailers
  • Photo Gallery

gemuIn continuation of our reviews of Blu-Ray titles from the new Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection, from German company, Ascot Elite Home Entertainment, we now investigate one of the Spanish exploitation maestro’s most interesting films, Die Liebesbriefe einer portugiesischen Nonne aka Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977). The film is a surprisingly poetic nunsploitation piece, rooted in a mysterious piece of 17th century literature.

The Film

Let me come right out and say it… Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun is the best Jess Franco film I’ve ever seen. Franco had a very long and eclectic directorial career, making films in every genre, from musicals to hardcore porn. Typically, the quality of his work ranged from competent to merely self-indulgent, which is why the artfulness of Love Letters comes as such a pleasant surprise. One reason for its success is that Franco was working with German producer Erwin C. Dietrich, who was giving him real budgets for a change. The other reason is that Franco also had a good cinematographer in Peter Baumgartner to collaborate with, who avoided most of the director’s visual banality. Then there is Walter Baumgartner’s music, but more on that later.

Susan Hemingway in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Susan Hemingway in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

The story of Love Letters, (a more erudite one than usual, for Franco), follows the exploits of a teenage girl, Maria, whose mother is coerced by a priest to send her to the convent of Serra D’Aires after she is caught frolicking with a young man. We soon learn that the convent is really a front for a Devil-worshiping cult, run by the Mother Superior in collusion with the priest. Maria is imprisoned and subjected to all manner of sexual abuse and torture, culminating in an orgy between some of the nuns and Satan himself.

Produced in the wake of Ken Russell’s highly influential The Devils (1971), Love Letters was scripted by producer Erwin C. Dietrich, (under the name, Manfred Gregor), with dialogue by Christine Lembach. It was loosely based on a wildly popular 17th century book Les Lettres Portugaises (Letters of a Portuguese Nun), a series of 5 love letters in book form. The letters were purported to have been written by Franciscan nun Mariana Alcoforado (1640–1723) to her French lover. Some scholars believe the letters to be genuine, but nowadays the bulk of scholarship veers toward the letters being a work of fiction—a sort of literary precursor to today’s found-footage film subgenre. It was Rilke who translated the book into German, and that’s the version that Dietrich used as the basis for his script. In truth, Franco’s film has little resemblance to its literary source and, no doubt, the original author would be aghast at seeing his title character being raped, doggie style, by the Devil. In that sense, Love Letters owes as much to films like The Devils and Rosemary’s Baby, as well as to Franco’s own depraved sensibility, as it does to its literary source. Visually, there are also echoes of Walerian Borowczyk, especially in the way Franco inserts close-ups of pubic hair, nipples, and faces in paintings to heighten the erotic charge.

Ana Zanatti in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Ana Zanatti in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

The film was shot entirely in Portugal, on real locations, and this lends the production design a certain aura of authenticity. Susan Hemingway as the teenage Maria is a memorable vision of innocence corrupted by her sexually-depraved elders, and Franco exploits her nubile beauty to the max. William Berger delivers an appropriately placid performance as the debauched priest; Ana Zanatti as the treacherous Mother Alma is excellent; and Herbert Fux seems strangely appropriate as Satan, although it’s a shame that he is given such concrete form, rather than remaining ambiguous, as in Rosemary’s Baby.

Walter Baumgartner’s memorable soundtrack certainly deserves special mention. It’s written in a faux-baroque style—reminiscent of Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances—and sounds wonderfully authentic, employing a wide range of period instruments including lute, harpsichord, organ, piccolos, flutes, and occasionally a chorus. It really frames the whole drama beautifully.

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Video

I’m of two minds about the video quality of Love Letters. On the one hand, all the usual positive attributes of Ascot Elite Home Entertainment’s restoration practices are in evidence: an organic, natural-looking image, intact but unobtrusive film grain, significantly greater detail and image depth than previous DVDs, and, most importantly, no sign of overzealous edge sharpening or denoising. Color is generally rich, if a little inconsistent. These are the positives. The one negative is that the image is subject to a strange ghosting effect whenever a sharp white edge meets a dark background. This is frequently visible on the top edges of the nuns’ heads where their white coifs meet a dark background. See the first screen capture above. This anomaly is also present on the old Anchor Bay DVD, as well as on the theatrical trailer included on the present blu-ray. That leads me to suspect that the problem rests with the original film elements. Therefore, I am still giving high marks to Ascot’s first class restoration job, and I’m still recommending this release very highly, but with the proviso that some may find the said anomaly distracting.

Susan Hemingway and William Berger in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Susan Hemingway and William Berger in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Audio

For this release, Ascot gives us English, German, and Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks; and German & Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. The good news is that they also give us English and Japanese subtitles, so that English speakers can listen to the original German track. This is a plus, for it makes it easier to accept the film as a serious drama. The dialog sounds razor sharp in both German and English, as does the music. There is certain opaqueness to the sound, owing to the original recording conditions, but overall, it doesn’t sound bad.

Ana Zanatti in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Ana Zanatti in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Extras

For Love Letters, Ascot Elite gives us the usual German theatrical trailers from their other exploitation releases, as well as “Memories of a Portuguese Nun,” a 12-minute featurette consisting of interviews with Jess Franco, Erwin C. Dietrich, Peter Baumgartner, Herbert Fux, and Lina Romay. There are no huge revelations, or charming anecdotes here, but in their subdued way, the participants do give us a few interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits as well as a general background on the making of Love Letters. The featurette is presented in SD, with English subtitles. Next is the same 40-minute audio interview with Jess Franco that’s been included on Ascot’s other Franco releases, but it’s in French only with no English subtitles. Finally, we get a 5-minute video Q&A with Jess Franco, Lina Romay, and Herbert Fux, filmed in Munich in July, 2001, at a live event. The participants speak both German and English, and there are English subtitles added.

Susan Hemingway, Ana Zanatti, and William Berger in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Susan Hemingway, Ana Zanatti, and William Berger in Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1977) [Click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

If you are one of those people who runs the other way at the mere mention of Jess Franco’s name, I would recommend you see Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun. If you are new to Franco and are interested in sampling his work, this would be the perfect film to start with. If you are a Franco devotee (and there seem to be quite a few of you out there), Love Letters is an absolute must for all the reasons already stated. Ascot Elite Home Entertainment has generally done a great job in restoring their catalog titles, and their Jess Franco Golden Goya Collection is a testament to their hard work and dedication. Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun may not be high art in the manor of The Devils, but it’s certainly one of the very best entries in the nunsploitation genre, and the one video hiccup described in the Video section above, should not deter anyone from seeing it. Like all the other releases in Ascot’s Jess Franco collection, it is presented completely uncut.

NOTE: Due to German censorship laws, the FSK has placed this blu-ray release on its index. That means that Ascot Elite is not permitted to advertise or sell it anywhere in Germany, including Amazon.de.

Readers who want to purchase this blu-ray and other German blu-rays that have been placed on the FSK index, can go to https://www.best-trade.de. You will have to register an account to verify your age.

Details Director: Jess Franco Cast: Susan Hemingway, William Berger, Herbert Fux, Ana Zanatti Year: 1977 Length: 89 min Rating: FSK 18 Region: Free Disks: 1…

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About Dima Ballin

Dima is the founder and publisher of Diabolique Magazine and the co-founder of the Boston Underground Film Festival. He is currently working on several screenplays and trying to attain enlightenment through Buddhism.

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