Telling the incredible true story of a woman who fled a convent and lived most of her life disguised as a man, “La Monja Alferez” is an absorbing historical film. The handsome photography and period settings and costumes complement the solid script and acting. Unfortunately, the hard-to-believe plot may be a hard sell.
Catalina de Erauso, known as la Monja Alferez, was born in a noble Spanish family in 1592.
Her choices were to marry or become a nun, and she reluctantly decided on the latter.
But she was not cut out for the convent and rebelled against her superiors.
She also fell in love with another nun, Inez, who soon became sick and died.
After pleading with her father to release her–saying “I don’t want a husband! I want my freedom!”–she escaped the convent dressed as a man.
Eventually, de Erauso sailed to the New World.
Passing as a man, she signed up with the Spanish Army, dueled with rivals, nearly froze to death crossing the Andes and fought off the advances of admiring women.
Once revealed as a woman, she returned to Spain to meet with the king. Amazingly enough, he granted her a pension, made her a lieutenant and allowed her to dress as a man.
Under Javier Aguirre’s direction, the fascinating story never lags despite the film’s nearly two-hour length.
Aguirre’s script manages to trace a number of dramatic events, though it is too dependent on narration.
De Erauso is played by two strong actresses.
Esperanza Roy takes over when she becomes a man, and she pulls off the difficult task of playing a rather masculine woman without overdoing it.
Technical credits, including lush 35mm photography and immaculate costumes, make “La Monja Alferez” a polished historical production.
The only jarring element is the very un-17th-century synthesizer music.
Otherwise, it is a compelling drama of a remarkable woman. Made in 1987, the drama may have trouble finding a distributor despite its merits.
On the other hand, perhaps it could be sold as a Spanish period version of “Sister Act.”