Monday, June 22, 2009

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

* Director: Peter Mullan
* AMG Rating: starstarstarstar
* Genre: Drama
* Movie Type: Religious Drama, Escape Film
* Themes: Innocence Lost, Rape & Sexual Abuse, Fighting the System
* Main Cast: Anne-Marie Duff, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh, Nora-Jane Noone, Geraldine McEwan
* Release Year: 2002
* Country: UK
* Run Time: 119 minutes
* MPAA Rating: R

One of the Catholic Church's most infamous institutions is the focus of this controversial independent feature from Scottish actor and erstwhile director Peter Mullan. Set in 1964, The Magdalene Sisters hones in on the Magdalene convent, a place where purportedly wayward young women have been sent by their families for reform. Many of the girls are locked up in the institution for questionable "sins," and the movie presents several of them as case studies: Margaret (Anne-Marie Duff), who is sent away after being sexually assaulted by a cousin at a wedding; Rose (Dorothy Duffy) and Crispina (Eileen Walsh), who are both unwed mothers; and Bernadette (Nora-Jane Noone), whose licentiousness has raised the ire of her former orphanage. It soon becomes clear that the reformatory is more of a manual-labor prison, however, as their girls are forced to work long hours and endure endless physical humiliation and abuse at the hands of the head nun, Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan). As their degradation at the hands of the convent's administrators increases, each girl plots her escape, but each finds that she's never far enough from the sisters' all-encompassing reach. The Magdalene Sisters premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded the festival's top prize, the Golden Lion; the Vatican officially condemned the film after its premiere. ~ Michael Hastings, All Movie Guide
Crafted with the kind of care and urgency that can only come from being personally invested in a subject, writer/director Peter Mullan's scathing exposé The Magdalene Sisters goes above and beyond predictable movie-of-the-week requirements to offer up a harrowing, first-hand view of the kind of inhumanity and persecution that might, in other times and circumstances, warrant the attention of a group like Amnesty International. From its opening scene -- involving a young woman's rape at a family gathering, told without dialogue -- the film adopts an unflinching, distant-but-sympathetic tone that creates a genuine sense of outrage and suspense for the viewer, without ever pandering to easy sympathy. The young women in Mullan's film -- brilliantly embodied by Anne-Marie Duff, Dorothy Duffy, Nora-Jane Noone, and Eileen Walsh -- don't spend much time pondering their assignment to the Magdalene convent/asylum the way they would in Girl, Interrupted or any one of a number of inferior, American "wayward girl" films. Instead, theirs is a more tactical, resigned existence, one in which escape is elusive and bitter compromise is the only means for survival. Where other directors might play up the syrupy bonding between the girls, Mullan doesn't shy away from the in-fighting and the resentment among them, even as he shows the small ways in which they try to protect one another. If the director's representation of the convent's Catholic administration is a more than a little sadistic, it's very much in line with the acts of brutality and humiliation we see them commit, as well as with Mullan's unerring effort to give the audience his lead characters' point-of-view. ~ Michael Hastings, All Movie Guide

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