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The Magdalene Sisters | Review

The Sisters of Un-Mercy

Mullan’s exposé rattles our sense way after the film’s end.

A lot of stuff happened in the 60’s, there was the race to the moon, the battle to get the civil rights movement into place and the pursuit to personal liberation thanks to the peace and love movement. Freedom apparently was not a popular idea in Ireland during this time. Director Peter Mullan’s international breakout success is about just that,-breaking-out, escaping the mental anguish of a system of suppression, which for the time it wasn’t the military but the convent attacking as full time laundry matt. The Magdalene Sisters denounces the cruelty that occurred for many generations with a thunderous pounce, the effectiveness of the picture comes through in the fully explicit presentation of the facts which are technically not hard to watch, but even more horrifying to imagine.

Sent away for committing ‘non’-crimes, this is about three innocent youths who took a wrong turn in life and end up getting sent to the working labor camp from hell-is there such a thing as a fun and friendly labor camp? Mullan exposes another headline story about the Catholic Church’s wrong-doings of the past with this intensely dark portrait that unravels the rampant and well-disguised corruption of those in brown (nuns) and those in black (priests). Victorious moments of courage and opportunism get trampled over by horrors inside this working asylum which was witness too many dealings in humiliation, sadism and suicide. Mullan mounts plenty of dramatic tension which is found in the intensity of escape sequences and defiance of the church authority and gives us a couple of wrongly placed pad-locked doors to analyze the fragile psyche of a scared girl.

As a director who is an actor (a.k.a Mother Superior from Trainspotting), Mullan seems to recognize the importance in the relationship between the role of the camera and the role of the protagonist. The sequence showing the p.o.v shot of the nun and the too-be-disciplined youths demonstrates the role of authority versus inner determinism and scenes such as this are held up by some brilliant performances, my favorite comes with the defiant and devilishly funny played by newcomer Nora-Jan Noone. Mullan lets the actresses’ belt out some of the best screen moments, making for some scary nuns and some energetically verbal and heavily freighted teens. Mullan gets under the skin of the characters, and lets the nightmare carry over onto other characters which unveils the psychological cruelty that occurred in supposed thousands of victims.

I suspect that winning a couple of best feature awards including the Venice Film Festivals’ Golden Lion always help push the word, and if you haven’t heard about this film, you’ll be getting an earful soon enough. Despite the controversy, the popularity of The Magdalene Sisters should easily attain good audiences levels, the subject is still always refreshed in the news headlines and because many of those who watch this film are the ones that remember nuns using wooden rulers not as teaching tools but as discipline for bad behavior.

Rating 3.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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