My current Top 5

My current Top 5

2/01/2010

Best Actress 1959: Audrey Hepburn in "The Nun's Story"

It can be said that it was her charming personality that made Audrey Hepburn a star. But it
was her undeniable talent as an actress that turned her into one of the most popular performers of all time.

In The Nun’s Story, Audrey Hepburn gives one her few performances that really show her talent because her performance does not rely on her charm like most of her others do – instead, Audrey Hepburn works from inside to bring Gabrielle who becomes Sister Luke to live.

In a performance that is a masterwork in subtlety and grace, Audrey Hepburn as usually shines like an angel but she also flawlessly demonstrates her character’s constant inner struggle with a mix of doubt and confidence that is beautiful to watch in its simplicity.

The Nun’s Story begins shortly before Gabrielle joins the convent. In just a few silent scenes Audrey already shows a certain inner strength in her character, a deep spiritual inner life. We never learn why or how Gabrielle decided to become a nun but Audrey Hepburn plays these early sense with such a quiet conviction that it’s clear that this was the correct decision for Gabrielle. She comforts the members of her family and we see that she will miss them but Audrey does not show any deep regrets or sadness because Gabrielle knows that she is doing the right thing even if others may not understand it. There is no doubt in her about her choice.

Shortly after that we learn that for Gabrielle, the most important thing about becoming a nun is helping the poor. She hopes to be sent to a mission in Africa where she could work as a nurse. This is actually a rather confusing aspect of the movie – we never really experience Gabrielle’s religious background. She seems to be glad to be a nun and to join the convent but it always seems that becoming a nurse and caring for sick people in Africa is the most important thing to her. Even the nun’s in the convent later have to tell her that she is a nun and not a nurse.

So it seems that the quiet conviction that Gabrielle displays is more directed at her hope to be a nurse rather than a nun. But But Audrey Hepburn’s luminous performance always shows the importance of religion in Gabrielle’s life, too. Like the screenplay, her performances never tries to explore the reason for her religious feelings – instead, Audrey Hepburn constantly shows the faith in Gabrielle and how each day for her is a new fight to maintain her spirit and live up to the rules and expectations of the nuns.

Already a few movie minutes after Gabrielle joined the convent it becomes clear that for her that life as a novice isn’t what she expected. The strictness and the discipline, the order of total obedience and the rules that make it hard for Gabrielle to achieve her ideas of a useful earthly life because they all primarily focus on her spiritual life make it harder and harder for Gabrielle to fulfil her destiny. But Audrey Hepburn not only shows this “grand” struggle between her hopes and reality, but also all the little sacrifices that are demanded from her and that would exhaust everyone. Audrey never tries to turn Gabrielle into an impeccable heroine but always keeps her a believable human being.

During the first part of the movie, Audrey keeps her performance rather in the background. It is more the actual story and the images of life in the convent that keep the interest of the viewer while Gabrielle carries the message of the movie. It seems that it’s not Gabrielle that makes the story interesting but rather the other way around. But this makes sense considering that the movie is called The Nun’s Story – the story is more important than the actual character and at the beginning, Gabrielle is merely a device to tell this story.

But Audrey fulfills this task with excellence and a beautifully subtle performance that always shows the burden of her life without losing the confidence that it all be worth it. She is especially impressive in the scenes when she is asked to fail a test to show that she is a humble person – the mix of obedience and quiet desperation on Audrey’s face is unforgettable and when she is denying her task and answers the questions of the test correctly, the fighting feelings of shame and integrity on a face that is demanded to repress every emotion are played expertly.

When Gabrielle’s wish is finally granted and she gets a chance to work in Africa, her character steps more in the foreground and Audrey’s performance becomes the dominating and driving force in this movie. And Gabrielle’s struggle and her own realization that her view of life and the life of the convent cannot exist together become more and more prominent.

Audrey carries the movie wonderfully and is always believable in every step of her character. And she surely displays one of the most brilliant scenes of her career at the end of the movie. In this wordless scene, Audrey shows everything on her face – even though her decision now is just as certain as her first decision at the beginning of the movie, we don’t see the quiet joy and assuredness in her. We see that the life in the convent has influenced her forever.

It’s a beautiful and brilliantly subtle performance by Audrey Hepburn which gets

2 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I think she's fine in this.

Anonymous said...

Perfect review of a perfect performance, the scene where she's asked to fail the test was worth the Oscar alone, she was certainly robbed that year, 5 Luises in my opinion!