Writer/Director Margaret Betts
Stellar performances, especially by Melissa Leo as the Mother Superior and Margaret Qualley as the featured novitiate, and a tight screenplay well directed by Ms. Betts, yield a compelling look at a convent during the advent of Vatican II. Issues of faith, calling, Catholic restriction and the ways of nuns before reforms are highlighted, much to the Church’s detriment. We see the suffering of young girls in the midst of trying to discover their calling, and the oppression of Catholic authorities in dealing with any questioning of dogma, power or sexuality. A strong Should See.
- Kenneth Turan in the LA Times found the film very strong. “A debut narrative feature for writer-director Maggie Betts, a hit at Sundance and already nominated for a Gotham breakthrough director award, “Novitiate” sure-handedly takes us inside the world of belief with care, concern and a piercing, discerning eye.”
- A.O. Scott in the NY Times: “Ms. Betts refrains from easy, uplifting answers and facile condemnations of organized religion. Aided by Kat Westergaard’s warm, restrained cinematography, she takes the viewer close to an understanding of Cathleen’s evolving sense of her relationship with God.
- Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice praises a film with flaws. “More troublingly, the director wrestles with the broader, more linear story she’s telling. We see little evidence of the belonging these characters keep telling us they’ve found. Cathleen is drawn to the church and to the convent as a way to get away from her parents’ nasty fights, but all we see of said fights is a brief, thoroughly generic moment of domestic chaos (“Fuck me? No, fuck you!” is an actual line of dialogue). For all these young women’s proclamations of the great, deep love they have for God, we never get into their heads or hearts — we never feel this devotion. Given where the film eventually goes, that is maybe understandable on a conceptual level: The church ultimately fails to provide the comfort they seek. But we still need to connect to it, just a little bit, so that the rest of the movie actually makes emotional sense. There’s a lot of great filmmaking in Novitiate, but there’s also quite a bit still missing.”