Review: ‘Cradle Song’

For those who've been waiting for a high-quality nun movie, "Cradle Song" will be blessed relief. Winner of special prizes from two juries in Montreal, this fourth Spanish-lingo version of Gregorio Martinez Sierra's 1941 classic of earthly love and heavenly faith is class-A arthouse fare.

For those who’ve been waiting for a high-quality nun movie, “Cradle Song” will be blessed relief. Winner of special prizes from two juries in Montreal, this fourth Spanish-lingo version of Gregorio Martinez Sierra’s 1941 classic of earthly love and heavenly faith is class-A arthouse fare.

If God is really in the details, this deluxe production, with its burnished ochers and luminous blues, is a holy, satisfying experience. Set in a 19 th-century convent, the tale follows a gaggle of Spanish nuns whose cloistered habits are first threatened and then uplifted by the arrival of an abandoned baby girl. The local doctor (terrific Alfredo Landa), an irreverent breath of fresh air –“in vino veritas” is his most pious pronouncement — and best friend to the order’s levelheaded Mother Superior (Fiorella Faltoyano), agrees to adopt the child and let the group raise her collectively, with heartwarming results.

Title refers to a tune heard by the most maternal sister (Diana Pecalver), as a child, from “a red-haired foreign girl with a face full of freckles.” The song is actually “An Irish Lullabye,” and its sentimental “tura-lura-lura” refrain forms the core of the pic’s lush but measured score. United by the illusory “birth without sin” of their charge, named Teresa after the ailing Mother Superior, veteran helmer Jos Luis Garci’s nuns make subtle comment on the limits of monastic life and the rewards of spiritual pursuit. Except for the jarringly over-recorded voices and an abundance of makeup designed to indicate aging, the production captures what one woman calls “the poetry of the small and everyday.”

Only caveat is pic’s slow pace and sustained tone of hushed reverence in a market cool to religious themes. But the presence of lovely Maribel Verde — when the story flashes forward to the marriage of grown-up Teresa — will help remind cosmopolitan auds of the intelligent pleasures of “Belle Epoque,” whose exhib path “Cradle” could follow, with some divine nurturance.

Cradle Song

(SPANISH)

Production

A Nickel Odeon Dos (Madrid) production. (International sales: Enrique Herreros, Madrid). Executive producer, Mario Morales. Produced, directed by Jos Luis Garci. Screenplay, Garci, Horacio Volcarcel, based on the book by Gregorio Martinez Sierra.

Crew

Camera (color), Manuel Rojas; editor, Miguel Gonzales-Sinde; music, Manuel Balboa; production design, Gil Parrondo; costume design, Yvonne Blake; sound, Jose Antonio Bermudez. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Sept. 4, 1994. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

With: Fiorella Faltoyano, Alfredo Landa, Maria Massip, Diana Pecalver, Maribel Verde, Carmelo Gomez, Virginia Mataix, Maria Louisa Ponte.
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