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A Jose Maria Lara PC/Alokatu PC production, with participation of Canal Plus and ETB. (International sales: Jose Maria Lara, Pamplona) Produced by Jose Maria Lara.

Directed, written by Ramon Barea. Camera (color), Kiko de la Rica; editor, Julia Juaniz; music, Ramon Torre Lledo; art director, Jose Ibarrola; sound (Dolby), Aurelio Martinez. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (Open Zone), Sept. 18, 1998. Running time: 92 MIN.

Sister Rufina                Elena Irureta
Sister Rosarito              Ane Gabarain
Sister Asun                  Loli Astoreka
Sister Remedios              Aitzpea Goenaga
Vice-prioress                Itziar Lazkano
Prioress                     Ione Irazabal
Joselito                     Ramon Ibarra

Venial Sins" injects life into that threadbare subgenre, the nun comedy, tapping into the cultural nostalgia of auds who used to giggle naughtily during Mass. Actor Ramon Barea's severely unfashionable but pleasant helming debut achieves charm and insight, testimony to the affection with which he regards his subject. Pic's premise is idiosyncratic and unlikely to travel well, but the right marketing could give its unusual blend of warmth and high camp enough push to overcome this limitation.

Pic's strengths are in the understanding which Barea brings to his theme and his compassion for a cast of lovable innocents, each deformed in his or her own way by the rigors of a devout life. Story is set entirely in a crumbling convent, seemingly abandoned by the modern world, which houses two warring factions -- the old-fashioned nuns, led by the vice-prioress (Itziar Lazkano), who lovingly guard the dead body of the convent's founder, and the forward-looking prioress (Ione Irazabal), who thinks the nuns should move into the modern world. Her assistant complains, "I can't go from an Olivetti to Windows 95 overnight. I'm not Solomon."

Main story centers on a group of nuns who are digging a tunnel under the confession box to escape. They include cigarette-puffing, macho Sister Rufina (Elena Irureta), who has always wanted to be a priest; Sister Asun (Loli Astoreka), who first believes she is pregnant and then believes she has had the baby; Sister Remedios (Aitzpea Goenaga), who chats merrily away to a statue of Jesus as though he were alive, and Rosarito (Ane Gabarain, giving the strongest comic pert), whose innocence verges on simple-mindedness.

Eventually, after a good deal of standard farce involving mistaken identities and things that go bump in the night, the nuns make their uncertain escape.

Other characters are strongly etched, including a young simpleton (Ramon Ibarra), who stands outside the convent walls and has sexual fantasies about what is happening inside, and two black nuns who sing lovely old African songs. Best thing about the film is its dialogue, although a couple of running jokes lose steam after a while, and there are a few too many minor characters overall.

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Title Annotation:Review
Article Type:Movie Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 7, 1998
Previous Article:TAXI DANCER.

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