It is 1945 in the depth of the Polish countryside in the heart of winter and a young novice nun surreptitiously escapes from her convent and makes tracks over the snow covered fields to the nearby town to seek out a doctor. She waylays three young children playing in the street and pleads with them, to point her in the right direction. However she insists on avoiding a local doctor as she is determined to get one of the French Red Cross Doctors who are still in town to attend to the remaining French soldiers who were wounded in the war that has just ended.
She manages to persuade a very hesitant Mathilde the only female doctor in the small Hospital to accompany her back to the convent to attend to the nun who is in urgent need of medical care, but first she swears her to total secrecy about the visit. The nun confined to her bed is in fact not sick, but actually about to give birth. Some months back the convent had been overrun by the invading Russian Army who were now in control of the region, and they raped almost all of the nuns.
It takes some time for Mathilde to establish that at least 7 of the nuns are pregnant as they are all very reluctant to confess. They fear that not only will the towns-people want to evict them, but also that are destined to face damnation. Some of them will not let Mathilde examine them as it is against Holy Orders to be touched or even be naked in front of anyone at all. The very icy Mother Superior is loathed to let the doctor get involved at all, but when the babies literally starting dropping like flies, she realizes that she has no alternative. The moment they are born she whisks them off to be discreetly adopted, and the first baby is actually taken to live with the nun’s aunt.
Things deteriorate further when the Mother Superior who was also raped, develops a bad case of syphilis but adamantly refuses to let Mathilde help her. Whilst she is laid up the Russian soldiers suddenly return to the Convent and it is only quick thinking by Mathilde who tells them that there had been an outbreak of typhoid, that averts further sexual abuse.
The story also has a subplot based at the Red Cross Unit where Mathilde’s boss, a very insecure Jewish man puts the moves on her, and they make out. The two have a real connection but they both know that it is simply a temporary war thing even though he would like it to continue.
There is a totally unexpected twist to this rather compelling story that shakes up the very foundation of the Convent, and how it must radically adjust to survive now in peacetime. This excellent French-Polish drama, directed by Anne Fontaine is actually based on a true story, and is essentially about various crises of faith that are tested by all the traumas and iniquities of wartime.
Starring a remarkable Lou de Laâge (‘Breathe’) who shines as the realistic and non-judgmental doctor, the movie is shot in dark drab hues that so beautifully convey a world ravaged by all the fighting and battles that damaged so much almost beyond recognition and that needs to be rebuilt and re-born like the people who still live there.