Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Novitiate has a powerhouse ensemble of female talent.
The Film is a coming-of-age story that follows Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) as she trains to become a nun during the Vatican II era. Although Cathleen wasn’t raised Roman Catholic, she attends a service with her single mother (Julianne Nicholson) and finds comfort in the peacefulness of the Church. When she receives a full scholarship and attends a Catholic school she experiences her first initiation with love, in this case with God. At the age of 17 she receives the calling from God and enters the postulate stage of training to become a nun, with the full intention of marrying God. Yet, as she progresses into the novitiate stage she begins to question her faith and sexuality.
What makes Novitiate captivating is its talented Ensemble Cast. Yet, no one compares to Melissa Leo as the Reverend Mother. Leo plays the detestable Reverend Mother as a woman going through a divorce. She is heartbroken and betrayed by these news rules that label her, someone who has devoted herself to her marriage with God, as equal to all patrons of the Catholic Church. Then there’s the breakout performance from Qualley. She has the power to say nothing but rather let her presence and subtle movements speak volumes. Nicholson has one of her best performances as Cathleen’s mother. She is stunning to watch and commands all the attention from the viewer especially in one scene when she faces Reverend Mother and doesn’t comply to the demands given to her. And the entire young supporting female cast consisting of Diana Agron, Morgan Saylor, Liana Liberato and others are captivating to watch.
Writer/Director Margaret Betts crafts an impressive Feature debut with Novitiate. She is in full control of every shot and uses lighting techniques to give the effect of power relations and shifts within the script. The pacing of the Film is very deliberate and there is nothing in the running time that isn’t essential to the story. Yet, there could be more added to the story. There isn’t much time spent in the beginning with Cathleen as a child to fully understand her love of the Catholic religion. We only get a short glimpse of her stating the Church is peaceful and then contrasted with an explosive fight between her parents. Other than that, Novitiate is a great first Feature debut and is one that will shock and amaze many.
Novitiate is a story about a woman coming-of-age whose struggling with her faith, sexuality and ultimately her future. It’s a strong first feature debut for Writer/Director Betts and has a cast that’s thrilling to watch. Mongrel Media release Novitiate Friday, November 3, 2017 in Toronto.