Despite a cliched, anachronistic setting — an unnamed Latin country embroiled in civil war –“Knocks at My Door” is a modest but compelling study of two nuns who put their lives on the line to shelter a rebel soldier. Venezuela’s entry for Oscar contention has arthouse promise due to strong leading perfs.
One night during curfew, a young fugitive steals into the house that middle-aged Ana (Veronica Oddo) shares with fellow nun Ursula (Elba Escobar), who’s younger and high-strung. The women belong to an order that stresses equality with lay people, so naturally they offer refuge.
Town mayor Cerone (screenwriter Juan Carlos Gene) suspects Ana of harboring the man but won’t violate protocol by having her house searched. Relations with the church are strained following the death-squad killing of a priest in which Cerone is implicated.
When a rash captain forces a search and shoots the rebel, both Ana and Cerone are put in a spot. Ana knows she’ll face the firing squad if she confesses to aiding an enemy of the state, while Cerone, desperate to avoid the bad PR of executing a nun, needs to convince her to say she was forced to help the man.
“Knocks” was adapted by Gene from his stage play, and pic retains a two-act structure. Each knock at Ana’s door during the first half adds momentum — will the house be searched, and how can the nuns smuggle their charge to safety? In act two, the knocks are dealt at the door of Ana’s conscience.
Standout performances are Oddo’s (best actress at Grammado), whose delicate handling of doubts and weaknesses makes Ana a very human saint, and Gene’s superbly calculating turn as pragmatist Cerone. Only Frank Spano as the rebel is weak. Despite the specifically Christian milieu, the film’s message — that with privilege comes responsibility — is universal.
Freshman Argentine helmer Alejandro Saderman doesn’t try too hard to be cinematic; rather than opening up the stage-based material, he cultivates a claustrophobic look that heightens Ana’s predicament. Only at the end does the lensing develop a poetic quality, and that’s enough to make an inevitable conclusion truly touching.