Based (perhaps loosely) upon the first story told on the third day of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” this movie features period costuming and an effort at historically-accurate setting (filmed in small-town Tuscany), but modern English is spoken and what appear to be small sequences from the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo mass and/or perhaps modern English-renditions of the Divine Office are shown as part of the depiction of the daily lives of the inhabitants of the convent. “The Little Hours” is a name for the monastic prayers recited during the day light. Some unbecoming behavior (including to the ordained and consecrated religious) is to be expected here; it is, after all, based on the Decameron, and a reflection of the problems in the society of the Italian renaissance and the abuses that were then existing in some of the Catholic institutions of the time. According to IMdB, “After release, promotional posters and preview trailers for the film included the Catholic League’s declaration that the movie is ‘trash, pure trash'”.  Fr. Tommasso, (played by John C. Reilly) and Mother Marea (Molly Shannon) run the convent, -barely-. It is all they can do to contain the young nuns, at least one of whom is from a life of privilege, dumping duties on her fellow sisters, as well as being an unwilling participant, even though her father knows that she’s “eager to be married”, his business is not doing well, and he can’t seem to find the money to fund her dowry to her intended, but is unwilling to reduce his donations to the convent and jeopardize his standing as a patron of the church, while she produces detailed embroideries as part of the income of the convent. While the metal plate with holes between father and daughter was supposed to have prevented parents opposed to their childrens’ consecrated vocations from kidnapping them away from the convent, in this case, it serves as a means of imprisoning at least one who would rather be back in the world. The principal characters, three out of a community of cloistered, enclosed nuns, act the part of modern-day Mean Girls and use contemporary profanities while eye-rolling over laundry duties, snarking at one another, screaming “You fucking pervert!” at Lurco, an unfortunately-named handyman, whom they eventually sufficiently harass and beat to drive him from his job. Fr. Tomasso, though having lost the embroideries made by the nuns when tasked to bring them to market, returns with a solution in the form of a new young man who is introduced to the convent as a deaf-mute. He had been a fugitive from a powerful nobleman who had become aware that he had been committing adultery with his wife, and when he confessed this to the priest, in addition to a penance of prayers, the priest offers him the job at the convent as sanctuary from the pursuing nobleman, and advises him to pretend he is a deaf-mute to reduce potential conflicts with the sisters. This doesn’t work for long. A sister seeking sympathy spends time alone with him and is noticed by the others, who initiate sexual encounters with him. One resorts to the services of a witch for a belladonna potion, another wrongfully ingests the belladonna potion, and experiences its psychoactive properties. Things escalate, the new handyman is kidnapped to play a part in the witches’ fertility ritual, in which the nun under the influence of the belladonna joins. Towards the end of the movie, he surely wishes that he had taken the advice of Fr. Tommasso, who had encouraged him to go to confession again and who warned him about the sisters having physically attacked people before and that “they can have a pack mentality”. Though this derivation of the Decameron is about abuses in a convent, and shows casual drinking of the sacramental wine both there and elsewhere, it is (hopefully) inaccurate in suggesting that the nuns got the supply of consecrated wine in a small stoppered jug when “Father Tommasso left the ambry unlocked”. Though in his admittedly casual drinking of sacramental wine, Fr. Tommasso may indeed have had some in a jug or pitcher, it is unlikely he would have put it in the ambry, even though at the time, many ambries were larger and were often used to keep other things besides the anointing oils, sacramental wine was not supposed to have been reserved. They are also strict about keeping it locked to prevent the oils from being misused by witches, satanists, and their ilk. (Surely they were aware of the practicing witches in the area, and one would think Fr. Tommasso would have been more careful about the ambry.)  Though the sisters have what seems at the beginning of the movie to be a legitimate grievance about the caloric insufficiency of the food at the convent, it is unlikely they would be up to the Queen Bee behavior and the lesbian activities that accompany the pilfered wine if they were truly suffering from inadequate food. Though some of the unhappy nuns could have used the opportunity to leave the convent when certain of their illicit activities came to the knowledge of visiting Bishop Bartolomo, who was ostensibly visiting to check on the finances of the convent, Alessandra elected to spare her father from knowing, the Jew elected to get baptized (by immersion and in the nude), and the Mother Superior wanted to keep her job.

 

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