1995, NR, 90 min. Directed by Manoel de Oliveira. Starring Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich, Luis Miguel Cintra, Leonor Silveira, Duarte D'Almeida, Heloisa Miranda.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 1, 1996
The Convent is the first international venture by the 87-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira (Valley of Abraham), whose film career stretches back to the silent era. Catherine Deneuve and John Malkovich star in this metaphysical mystery film that has been selected for presentation at two major film festivals: New York and Cannes. Though these two actors lend credence and depth to the film, The Convent is still a wisp of a story -- more evocation than elucidation. Malkovich plays an American scholar, Michael Padovic, who is researching his theory that Shakespeare was a Sephardic Jew. His investigation leads him to a secluded convent library, which he visits with his lovely French wife Hélenè, played by Deneuve. Overseeing their visit is the convent's sinister guardian Balto (Cintra) and its beautiful young librarian Piedade (Silveira). Padovic pays scant attention to his annoyed wife, who in turn occupies her time roaming the grounds with Balto. Piedade reads aloud selections from Göethe's Faust to the preoccupied Padovic. Invocations of Mephistopheles and Helen of Troy are amply mixed with a plethora of Christian symbolism. What does it all mean? I haven't the foggiest. Nor are there any nuns in this convent, only a tarot-card-reading housekeeper and her caretaker husband, Balthazar. I came away from my visit to The Convent feeling as though I were lacking the password.