Jess Franco has established a cult following which may reflect the quantity rather than the quality of his work. Born Jesús Franco Manera in Madrid, May 12 1930, he originally trained as a musician, then went into acting, screenwriting, and direction, making his directing debut in 1959. Franco has nearly 200 films to his credit - many made under a variety of pseudonyms. He has attracted a deal of notoriety over the years - in the 1970's, the Catholic Church declared that he and Luis Buñuel were the most dangerous films makers in the world!
A European phenomenon, his low budget horror and erotica played in the soft-porn fleapits throughout the 60's and 70's. As horror and erotica go, a Franco film can be seriously boring, with turgid script, soporific direction, and a cast which owes more to the firmness of their flesh than the flaccidity of their acting. However, the best of Franco's films do achieve a lyrical charm and have an entertaining quality which has stood the test of time.
"Love letters of a Portuguese Nun" tells the tale of young Maria/Marie, dragooned into a convent by a roué priest who is clearly more intent on chastising her body than saving her soul. Franco exhibits his usual fascination with punishment and bondage as Maria uncovers the fact that the convent is dedicated to the worship of Satan. She seeks help, runs away, but is recaptured and sentenced to be burned at the stake. She writes a letter to god, begging for forgiveness, and trusts it to the wind.
A beautifully photographed film, with crisp images and a lyrical quality to the lighting, it provides some very tame but beautifully shot nudity, a fairly lame plot, dubbing which fails to synchronise sound and movement, and acting which might make you blush. There are, however, a couple of beautiful cameo roles - watch out for the mayor! It's quite tastefully done. The horror element is facile and cliché-ridden, stripped of any menace by the dubbed voices - which make Dick van Dyke's London chimneysweep sound like a classic piece of Shakespearean acting. The erotica is charming and droll, even elegant at times.
All in all, it's an entertaining little romp, not something you'd take seriously. It would provide good focal entertainment for an after-dinner party, giving you time to sit back, digest your food, and share a laugh with friends.