Motion picture legend Audrey Hepburn received her third Best Actress nomination for playing Gabrielle van der Mar, a young Belgian girl who decides to become a nun in order to help other people. She goes through the tough process of learning, and she helps at a mental institution before going to the Congo, where her life is changed forever. This is probably the most respected and appreciated performance of the legendary actress and at the time she also won many awards from critics. This is the type of performance for which stars could win at the time, but I guess the "she's already won" thing got in the way of Hepburn.
The Nun's Story is a moving, credible and in short excellent movie, which shows the life and sacrifices of nuns with dignity and respect. It's by no means a standard religious drama, so a non-religious person can also identify with the subject and in my opinion it's a great achievement. The movie features several Academy Award winning and nominated actors (although most of them were not nominated at the time), who give excellent and memorable supporting performances. I must give special mention to Dame Edith Evans, who was most definitely worthy of the Oscar nomination (and the win too in that weak year if you ask me). But it's also nice to see Beatrice Straight, Peter Finch (both won for Network 17 years later) and Peggy Ashcroft.
They all pale in comparision with Audrey Hepburn, who gives her ever-best performance in this movie. This role was tailor-made for her and I actually cannot really imagine anyone playing this role, as Hepburn is more Hepburn in this movie than ever, despite the fact that this is her most dramatic performance. Until right now I was one of those, who thought that Audrey Hepburn is mostly loved and appreciated because of her charm, but The Nun's Story was like a revelation to me: yes, Audrey Hepburn had enourmous talent, a one-of-a-kind screen presence and a nearly angelic personality. This role had to come in her way, it was destiny.
We can see even in the first scenes what we will get from her. Her whole performance is in that scene: she's quiet, doesn't say much with words, she expresses her feelings with her face and yes, her beauty. It's almost unbearable to see her say goodbye to her previous life as her actions and reactions are so heartbreakingly real, her doubts and insecurities are so well presented even in the beginning.
Her changes during the learning process are extremely impressive and again prove Hepburn's immense talent. Again we see the doubts of this inexperienced girl, who tries to overcome her weakness in order to sacrifice her whole life to God. She wants to make this commitment, but we also feel how inconfident she really is.
When she prepares for her trip to the Congo, her subtle excitement and enthusiasm we feel is almost unspeakable. Even then she has to deal with a moral dilemma and again she's full of doubt and inconfidence. At the mental asylum we get to know a new face of this girl: young, inconfident, unprepared and scared. Her true fear, when a scizophrenic woman attacks her is almost again unbearably real. She shows the human side of this character and we also see how much she has to learn to become a good nun.
Probably the most dangerous part of her role comes with the Congo part, where her character works as a nurse with the doctor played by Peter Finch. We don't get the standard nun performance, with the lovely and yet strict personality. We actually realize the hardships of this lifestyle. They also have doubts and fears like all of us, after all they are also people. This seems very harsh, but the human side of nuns is rarely shown in movies. And the scenes where she tries to defeat her attraction towards the doctor is an excellent proof. She fears from the consequences and cannot get close to any man. In a scene where she's praying she says that the more she tries to be perfect the more imperfect she becomes, that's probably the most brilliantly acted moments in the motion picture history (but praying scenes can alsways have a great effect on the audience.
Although Hepburn does well with the technical part, her performance completely relies on emotions while acting. She has an effect on you which cannot be got across, you can only feel her brilliance with your soul. This sounds quite corny I know, but it cannot be more true about Audrey in this movie. She gently amazes you, her dignity and grace on screen leaves you speechless and makes you think about her for a long time. Haunting, effective work and an amazing accomplishment by a true legend at her finest.
If you'd like to see The Nun's Story click here. Also to see Suddenly, Last Summer click here. So what do you think? Tell me in your comments (also your predictions).