"Story of a Cloistered Nun" is the follow-up to Domenico Paolella's previous 'nunsploitation' entry, "The Nuns of St. Archangel" (reviewed under the name of "The Nun and the Devil" elsewhere on this site). Most fans of Euro-cult will doubtless find it more intriguing for its cast list than anything in the film's content: the prospect of three of the most ravishing female leads from Dario Argento's early work being thrust together at close quarters inside a convent boiling over with sexual frustration is sure to get any fan's pulse racing! In the end though, only fans of the fair-haired, porcelain beauty of the impossibly lovely Eleonora Giorgi are likely to find their titillations at all attended to, since she is the only cast member to actually strip off for the full frontal nude scenes that one usually expects to find in such nunsploitation flicks. The glamorous Catherine Spaak (here looking considerably more appealing than she did in Argento's "Cat O' Nine Tails") and an unusually severe-looking Suzy Kendall, provide the film's dark intrigue and Sapphic longing — without the on screen removal of their coif and wimples being necessary! Paolella's film shares its predecessor's penchant for melodrama and political intrigue, though here the politics that come to see Eleonora Giorgi's character, Carmela, packed off to a nunnery, are sidelined after those initial scenes, in favour of a detailed examination of life inside a 17th century Franciscan convent looked at from Carmela's point of view. There is none of the anticlerical sentiment one usually finds in the subgenre (and in Paolella's previous outing); instead the film becomes an expose of the hypocrisy of convent life — supposedly based on a genuine 17th century manuscript, but having the false ring of early-70s male fantasies about the cauldron of sexual desire presumed to be at constant boiling point underneath the heaving habits and inside the fluttering hearts of Christ's servants.
The film starts off with a comic look at the absurdities of a politically motivated betrothal between a son and a daughter of two aristocratic families; a betrothal aimed at forging a politically advantageous union between the clans. Probably thinking it best that the whole matter be arranged before either party has a chance to speak their own minds on the matter, the ceremony is carried out while the son and daughter are still bawling babies — with their fathers agreeing to the union for them while they sit together crying, naked on a luxurious four-poster! We fast-wind forward to the daughter, now a beautiful young woman, indulging in a spot of heavy petting with the true love of her life, which, needless to say, is not the man she is pledged to marry. When this assignation comes to light, her mother and father decide that the only option is to remove their shamed daughter to a nunnery, explaining to the intended husband's family that their daughter's 'calling' has superseded their original deal — thereby saving face.
And so it comes to pass that a bewildered Carmela (Eleonora Giorgi) finds herself abandoned to a life of austerity and deprivation inside a Franciscan convent. Things get off to a fishy start straight away: as she is stripped of her jewelry and beautiful clothes, one of the sisters obviously covets her expensive trinkets; while another sister eyes here luscious naked body with sly, greedy looks and a third lets her fingers brush over her in oddly lingering caresses! before she has hardly set foot through the door, Carmela is confined to solitary — a rite of purification in which she is locked in a dingy cell with only basic food and water rations and a requirement that she should engage in constant prayer. before too long, Carmela comes to realise that there is precious little purity to be found between the convent's marble & granite walls: the redheaded beauty, Elizabeth (Catherine Spaak), who initially befriends her, steels away to an outhouse for torrid sex with her male lover, and is also simultaneously carrying on an affair with one of the other nuns who sleeps in her room at night with the full knowledge of the mother superior, who does nothing because Elizabeth's family provide the convent with generous donations! The mother superior herself (Suzy Kendall) eventually breaks down and begs that Carmela provide her with 'love' despite having previously had her stripped and flogged for a minor breach of convent rules. Elizabeth's unofficial power inside the convent allows her access to the confiscated dresses and jewelry taken from the aristocratic ladies soon after they arrive at the convent; she organises midnight soirées where the members of her 'club' get to dress up in their expensive clothes of old. After Elizabeth helps Carmela get a meeting with her old lover, the young novice finds she is expected to repay her mentor with sexual favours. After she refuses, Elizabeth takes a frightful and bloody revenge which threatens to bring down the whole weight of Church authority on the community's cloistered intrigues.
Like "The Nuns of St. Archangel" before it, "Story of a Cloistered Nun" is rather coy compared to later genre entries which dwelt on purulence and torture to an excessive degree. In fact, "Story ..." is even less hard-hitting than Paolella's previous film in many ways: there are no torture scenes apart from Giorgi's whipping scene — and even that is filmed in a none exploitative way, focusing more on the reactions of the other nuns assembled to watch the spectacle than Giorgi's naked suffering. Paolella has gathered many of the crew from the previous effort (composer Piero Piccioni, whose score is once again conducted by Bruno Nicolai, and producer Tonino Cervi who also co-writes the film with the director as before) and some of the locations even look rather similar to those utilised in "The Nuns ..."; there is a curiously plaintive air to this entry though — and less emphasis on melodrama and romance. The ending even offers up a touch of hope when the sisters bond together a la "Sparticus" to thwart the Church authorities' in their desire to punish one of the sisters for her pregnancy.
No Shame Films give us another excellent transfer and the option of viewing the film in either Italian (with removable English subtitles) or in an English dub (which preserves Suzy Kendall's rather 'Julie Andrews' delivery). A twenty minute featurette is included in which actors Umberto Orsini and Eleonora Giorgi talk about their careers, experiences and memories of the film. Orsini is a rather macho character who talks about the homosexual undercurrent to the bath house scene (in rather offensive terminology if the subtitle translation is to be believed), while the vivacious and animated Eleonora Giorgi is as enchanting in her older years as she was as a more conventional younger beauty. The disc comes packaged with a fold out sheet featuring a rather curious poster "tribute to Eleonora Giorgo in Story of a Cloistered Nun" — a drawing, which gives rather a misleading impression of the film to say the least — and, on the other side, authoritative liner notes by Richard Harland Smith. This is a nice presentation of this enjoyable early example of nunsploitation.