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Maggie Betts
Margaret Qualley, Julianne Nicholson, Melissa Leo
Writing Credits:
Maggie Betts

Set in the early 1960s and during the era of Vatican II, a young woman in training to become a nun struggles with issues of faith, the changing church and sexuality.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Audio Descriptive Service
Polish Dolby 5.1
French Dolby 5.1
Russian Dolby 5.1
Latin Spanish Dolby 5.1
Castillian Spanish Dolby 5.1
Chinese Traditional
Castillian Spanish
Latin Spanish
Supplements Subtitles:
Latin Spanish
Castillian Spanish

123 min.
Price: $30.99
Release Date: 3/6/2018

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Maggie Betts
• Alternate Ending
• Extended/Deleted Scenes
• “In Conversation with the Cast” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


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Novitiate [Blu-Ray] (2017)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 26, 2018)

A period tale of faith during a time of change, 2017’s Novitiate starts in Tennessee circa 1954. Though an agnostic, Nora Harris (Julianne Nicholson) introduces her seven-year-old daughter Cathleen (Eliza Mason) to Catholicism, and this begins the girl’s lifelong interest in the religion.

At 17, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides to study to become a nun. She enters a convent and goes through a series of challenges as well as reactions to the more liberal social bent pursued by the Vatican.

On the Blu-ray’s case, it claims that Novitiate will be “about a young girl’s first initiation with love, in this case with God”. That synopsis led me to suspect the film would offer a glowing paean to belief and faith.

Boy, did I get that wrong! While Novitiate pays some lip service to religious devotion, it feels more like a condemnation of the convent than anything else.

Part of the problem comes with the easy way Cathleen becomes fascinated by God. Beyond a venue to escape a less than stellar home life, we don’t get a view of why Cathleen attaches so strongly to God – she simply latches onto the religion without much explanation and we’re forced to go along with this journey despite the absence of real exploration.

I might not mind that much if Novitiate treated her time at the convent in a more involving manner, but instead, it treats this experience as brutal – which may be accurate, but the story lacks balance. We see Cathleen’s training as more like Marine boot camp than anything else, with a nearly psychotic Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo) as an unrelenting tormentor.

As painted here, I guess we’re supposed to sympathize with the exceptionally traditional Reverend Mother as she grapples with the unwanted “modernization” from Vatican II. However, this doesn’t occur, partly because the movie makes Reverence Mother such an awful character.

Leo attempts to add a little balance to the role, but she can’t sand off the rough edges from this thoroughly unpleasant personality. Reverence Mother comes across as a sadist at best and a psychopath at worst, not choices that make her a sympathetic personality.

The other characters don’t tend to go anywhere either, and Cathleen feels like a virtual cipher at the heart of the film. As noted, we get little sense of her spiritual journey, and the story pursues some predictable paths as it attempts to challenge her on her journey.

None of these make Cathleen more interesting or compelling. She exists as a superficial pawn to allow the movie to generate its view of the nun-training business.

Novitiate tends to spread itself too thin, and that adds to the sense of superficiality. While the involvement of the Vatican II decrees contributes some conflict, those elements also mean that the narrative lacks depth, as it can’t cover all its desired bases well.

All of these factors make Novitiate occasionally intriguing as a view of nuns in a certain period, but the lack of real focus becomes a liability. The movie never comes together as a coherent whole, and this absence of clarity makes it less impactful.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Novitiate appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie offered a fine transfer.

Overall definition seemed positive. Virtually no softness materialized, so the movie appeared accurate and concise.

I noticed no signs of jaggies or edge enhancement, and shimmering was absent. The film lacked print flaws and seemed clean.

Many period pieces opt for subdued palettes, and that was true here. The colors tended toward teal tones, with some amber along for the ride as well. These appeared fine within the film’s stylistic choices.

Blacks seemed dark and tight, and shadows demonstrated good clarity. This added up to a satisfying presentation.

A character drama wouldn’t seem to be a candidate for a whiz-bang soundtrack, and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio of Novitiate fell into expected realms. The track oriented toward ambience, so don’t expect lots of sizzle from the mix.

Audio quality satisfied. Music was full and rich, while effects showed nice clarity and accuracy.

Speech – obviously an important factor here – appeared concise and crisp. Nothing about the track soared, but it all seemed perfectly adequate for the project.

We get an array of extras here, and these begin with an audio commentary from writer/director Maggie Betts. She offers a running, screen-specific look at the film’s roots and research, cast and performances, story/characters, sets and locations, music, and connected elements.

Betts gives us a somewhat spotty chat. While she throws out a fairly positive array of notes, she also goes silent a bit too often. These factors make this a generally informative piece but not a great one.

In addition to an alternate ending (3:51), we find seven deleted/extended scenes (24:12). The “alternate ending” provides an epilogue that follows Cathleen 10 years after the film’s conclusion. While I don’t dig the movie as a whole, I do like its open-ended finale, so this capper would’ve been a terrible choice – I’m very glad the filmmakers left it on the cutting room floor.

As for the deleted/extended scenes, most of them add a little to various characters. Cathleen’s mother probably gets the biggest expansion, especially when we see a foreshadowing scene related to 12-year-old Cathleen’s entry into Catholic school. The added material doesn’t tend to offer much of interest.

In Conversation with the Cast goes for 25 minutes, 59 seconds and features Betts and actors Melissa Leo, Margaret Qualley, Dianna Agron and Julianne Nicholson. “Conversation” views the project’s origins and development, characters and performances, and connected domains. Some of the material repeats from the commentary, but the actors’ perspectives gives us good information – especially from Leo, as she offers a defense of her role.

The disc opens with ads for Call Me By Your Name, Mark Felt, Maudie, A Fantastic Woman, The Leisure Seeker and Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool. We also find the trailer for Novitiate.

As a view of one aspect of the Catholic church, Novitiate boasts potential, but it fails to capitalize on its themes well. Too much of the movie feels loose and without real narrative coherence. The Blu-ray boast excellent visuals as well as adequate audio and a good collection of supplements. Parts of Novitiate fare well but the film never comes together.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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