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: Noi the Albino
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flick pick | The Magdalene Sisters 2002
Directed + written by: Peter Mullan
Starring: Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Eileen Walsh
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: , serious, true?!?
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis It's 1960s Ireland, and while elsewhere in the world, hemlines are going way way up, good Irish Catholic girls are still expected to be prim and proper and chaste, lest their feminine beauty tempt weak men from the path of good. Girls who fail to do so get sent to one of the country's Magdalene Laundries run by nuns of the Catholic Church. Billed as rehabilitation centers for wayward girls, these laundries essentially served as prisons for girls who'd been cast out by their families, and slave labor for the church. The Magdalene Sisters centers around a group of young girls who were confined at one of the Magdalene Laundries in the mid-60s. Margaret gets raped by her drunk cousin at her sister's wedding; when word gets out to her father, his solution isn't to seek justice for the horrible violation committed against his daughter, but to have her shipped out of sight so he doesn't have to deal with the problem. Rose has just given birth out of wedlock when her father strong-arms her into giving up her newborn son for adoption; she changes her mind almost immediately, but it's too late, and Rose finds herself being escorted to the laundry. Bernadette's only crime is that she's so pretty she drives the boys to distraction; when the nuns at her orphanage catch her flirting at the playground one day, they take pre-emptive action and promptly call up their friends at the Magdalene Laundries, where Bernadette is immediately transferred. At the laundry, the girls serve under the dictatorial rule of Sister Bridget and her fellow nuns. Forced to wear drab brown shapeless shifts and labor over laundry for no pay whatsoever, the girls are allowed to ask no questions, and any attempts to form friendships are soon curtailed. Humiliated and beaten, the girls struggle to maintain their dignity and find a way out, even in the face of nuns and priests who justify their cruel actions in the name of God.

Review The Magdalene Sisters reveals such a fascinatingly horrifying episode in recent history that I'll forgive writer-director Peter Mullan's occasional heavy-handedness in dramatizing the story. Yes, it would have made for a more complex and challenging film if Mullan had depicted Sister Bridget and the rest of the Magdalene nuns with even a shred of humanity, but in the end, I think I'm kind of okay with the fact that they're uniformly portrayed as sadistic, deluded fanatics: there's something incredibly shocking about seeing women who profess to be of God behaving in such an ungodly manner, even to a total heathen like myself, and that shock value is a big part of why the movie is so moving. It's just unbelievable to think that these kinds of atrocities could have been committed against women who were guilty of nothing more than being female, really -- and that these brutalities happened not in some far off third-world country, but in a country in Western Europe, and not all that long ago (the last of the laundries apparently didn't close until 1996 -- that's less than ten years ago, folks). The acting is excellent, particularly Geraldine McEwan as head dragon lady Sister Bridget, and Eileen Walsh as Crispina, an unwed mother whose mind isn't all there, but whose faith remains unshakable through abuse after abuse. The Magdalene Sisters isn't easy to watch, as it's impossible not to feel infuriated at the subjugation of these women by a religion claiming to be acting for the women's own good. But it's a powerful story, and one that very much needs to be heard. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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