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'Novitiate' TIFF 2017 Review: Say ten Hail Marys and call the Reverend Mother in the morning

September 5, 2017Siobhán Finn

Prior to the events of Vatican II, entering the Sisterhood was a choice made by many young women: they gave-up the outside world and became brides of Christ. In Novitiate, writer/director Margaret Betts explores the reasons women chose this vocation and the difficulties they faced along the way.

Describing herself in the opening minutes of the film as a “woman in love,” Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) submits herself to the grueling path toward becoming a nun. During her two-year period of study, Cathleen begins to question the restrictive world around her and is forced to confront both her convictions and her sexuality. Despite strong performances from many in the cast (particularly Julianne Nicholson as Cathleen’s agnostic mother), the real star of the film is Melissa Leo as the indomitable Reverend Mother who runs the cloistered Order with an iron fist.

Some may be put off by its overt religious themes, but at its heart Novitiate is simply a new take on the traditional coming-of-age film, with Cathleen feeling trapped between a decision she made at 17 and a world of possibilities. Worthy of space on anyone’s TIFF schedule, Novitiate is a beautiful story with a surprisingly feminist message.

Novitiate is receiving its international premiere as part of TIFF 2017's Special Presentations programme. Its runtime is 1 hr. 58 min.

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