The Little Hours (2017)
Women and Power
The Little Hours opens with what seems to be a peaceful and pious nun leading a lost donkey through a serene wilderness back to her abbey. Yet, not even five minutes in, the idea that this is going to be a film depicting the day-to-day lives of devout nuns is all but abandoned. Sister Ginevra and Sister Ferdinand, the nuns in the opening scene, devolve from two religious figures discussing morning prayer, into a duet of filthy-mouthed sailors berating an old handyman in the blink of an eye. This juxtaposition of scenes with holy, if dull, monastic life with other scenes filled with sinful, lewd, and crass behavior continues throughout the film. The catalyst appears in the form of Massetto, a servant fleeing the rage of his master, Lord Bruno, after having an illicit affair with his wife. Massetto ends up posing at the Abbey’s deaf and mute handyman. From there the film slowly reveals the dark, if humorous, underbelly of monastic life. The Little Hours depicts everything from sexual affairs and drunken priests to witchcraft and blood consumption.
The Little Hours had a domestic total gross of $1,647,175, with a $56,676 opening weekend. The movie was relatively well received by the critics, receiving an aggregate score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 69/100 on Metacritic. It was far less popular among the general audience, with a score of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5.9/10 on IMDb. Some complaints stemmed from conservative and religious circles about the film’s less than holy depiction of monastic life; the Catholic League went so far to say, “It is trash, pure trash.” Its blasphemous content was not the only focus of complaints, as The New York Times described the film’s atmosphere as ‘clubby’, claiming the actors were more interested in entertaining one another than the audience.
Those with religious complaints, however, need to reevaluate who they should really blame for the plot’s less than favorable depiction of the Catholic Church because The Little Hours is based on The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio— specifically, Novells One and Two from The Third Day. Novell One revolves around the nuns’ sexual escapades. Novell Two is the original basis for the affair between Massetto and Lord Bruno’s wife. The Decameron is a fourteenth-century collection of bawdy stories about the Catholic Church. The Little Hours’ interpretation, filled with f-bombs and lustful eye-rolling nuns, makes the same scandals portrayed in The Decameron more accessible to modern day viewers.
That being said, much of what is portrayed in The Little Hours highlights some of the major problems cited by the proponents of monastic reform in the Middle Ages, and, in this case a film that is supposed to take place in 1349, it appears as if Boccaccio’s critiques still point to pervasive problems of corruption that monastic reformers were concerned with beginning in the tenth century. Besides all the sex, foul language, and witchcraft, the film also depicts other more deeply rooted problems with monastic life. First, the abbey employs shady financial accounting. Though the abbey is not rich, it does have a series of questionable fiscal policies, which includes Father Tommasso drunkenly losing the embroidery in the river and covering it up and Sister Marea manipulating numbers in the accounting books. Second, the story of Sister Alessandra shows that she views the abbey as nothing more than a place to stay until her father can marry her off. The film implies that she was an oblate, someone who was promised to the Church at a young age, since she is pictured giving another young oblate a tour later in the film. Alessandra’s story line, more than any of the other nuns', emphasizes the ways those from wealthy families manipulated the system to their benefit.
Late Middle Ages (c. 1300-1500)
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