Thursday, June 14, 2018

Nun Month: Bad Nuns

The Little Hours (2017)
When the most common source material for film adaptation is comic books, you’d think it would be heartening to come across a film based on one of the true classics of Western Civilization’s literary canon, Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. This classic work of literature is a collection of tales told by seven men and three women taking refuge in a villa to avoid the Black Death. 2017’s The Little Hours is based on Tales III: 1 & 2, but if you look to this film for literary uplift, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed.

Some of the tales in The Decameron are primarily remembered for their erotic content, and that’s the emphasis in this film, set in 1327 at a small convent whose nuns seem to live lives utterly without purpose. Sisters Alessandra (Alison Brie), Ginevra (Kate Micucci), and Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) squabble and bicker with each other and tattle on each other to their superior, Sister Marea (Molly Shannon).

The poor farmer who lives on the convent property and supplies the sisters’ food fares even worse. They curse at him (an amazing number of F-bombs are dropped for a film featuring nuns) and even worse (in the context of the film) call him a Jew. They throw the turnips he gives them back at him. Eventually, they beat him. Quite understandably, he flees the grounds.

Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), the drunkard priest in charge of the convent, hires a new farmer and groundskeeper, Massetto (Dave Franco). Massetto is actually a fugitive from his former master (Nick Offerman) who was enraged when he learned his servant was sleeping with his wife. To disguise himself, Massetto pretends to be a deaf-mute. Father Tommasso enjoys Massetto’s company and together, they drink a lot of sacramental wine.

Massetto is a handsome young man, and the sisters are attracted to the new workman, though only a couple of them succeed in sleeping with him. This is only one of the sisters’ vow breaking vices. They also binge on wine and drugs (belladonna or nightshade), seduce each other, and dance in naked pagan rituals in the woods. Really worse than any of these things, though, is their lack of love. Attempting to kill Massetto in a Satanic rite in the woods is not a loving thing to do. The sisters show no compassion for each other and never seem to give a thought to a loving relationship with God.

To be fair, the sisters don’t really want to be in the convent. Alessandra would like to be married (“I’m going to waste away here,” she frets). Her father, a rich man, sent her to live in the convent, and since he provides large donations, Father Tommasso is quite happy to keep Alessandra around.

Eventually, Bishop Bartolomeo (Fred Armisen) learns of the untoward doings at the convent and holds a hearing to punish them for their acts (“This is the longest list of sins I’ve ever written.”)

Father Tommasso offers the one sacrificial act in the film when he asks to take responsibility for all the sins of those under his authority. He’s sent off to live with monks, but instead, he’s met by Sister Marea. They confess their love for each other and kiss.

They might be happy together, but the nuns who lived with them in the convent will continue to live awful lives unless they stop being awful people, which is why we’re giving the clergy of the Little Hours our lowest rating of One Steeple.

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