Director Peter Mullan grew up in Scotland and established himself as an actor in the 90's.For anyone growing up in a Catholic school in the not so distant past with the misfortune of having had psycho nuns as teachers, his film, 'The Magdelene Sisters' is a blessing and that is because you know you survived, and it could have gotten much worse. From 1850 to 1940 -and even as late as 1996, young teenage girls were sent to Magdalene Asylums in Ireland- some because their families couldn’t care for them, some because they had been raped or were too good looking. The modus operandi of their guardians, the nuns at the asylum, was to then break the girls’ spirit and try to get them to develop virtuous qualities such as piousness. The asylums functioned as work camps, primarily laundries, where over 30,000 women were said to have been ‘incarcerated’. Punishment was the rule when any girl got out of line.
For almost two hours, we are subjected to the most gruesome sadistic acts of abuse on young girls possible. Because so much of the abuse is psychic it is especially hard to swallow: hair cutting, face slapping and other acts of public humiliation such as pointing out bodily differences are standard fare. When I saw the film at the 'Venice International Film Festival' last year, the audience moaned and groaned and eventually cheered when the young girls fought back against their tormenters.
Mullan’s film is strong, and his philosophy is powerful. At the festival press conference he claimed that "teenage girls are an exploited ‘ethnic group’",subject to physical and psychological abuse because of their vulnerability. Candidates for substance abuse and targets for teenage prostitution and pornographic exploitation the idea of young girls forced into a state of chastity at the asylum and working with so-called celebrate priests is put to question.
Father Franco Patruno, art critic for the newspaper for the Vatican newspaper 'L'Osservatore Romano' condemned the film for its unfair portrait of priests and nuns (September 5, 2002) yet many in the Italian audience seems to be able to relate to the story. 'The Magdelene Sisters' held its head hight from the beginnng of its debut at the Venice festival and continued to soar with Peter Mullan winning the 'Golden Lion' last year.
This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine, Venice Italy
© 2003 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 7/30
The Magdelene Sisters
UK, Ireland - 2002