Unable to find her place at home or amongst her peers at school, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) finds solstice with the nuns at her school and decides to turn to the Catholic Church to find meaning in her life. However, her place in the Church is complicated as larger changes are on the horizon from the Vatican.
After her mother, Nora Harris (Julianne Nicholson), decides she should have some idea of what religion is about, Cathleen is immediately struck by the peace and calm that she experiences attending her first Catholic mass. Despite the misgivings of her decidedly irreligious mother (an anomaly in their small 1960s Tennessee town), Cathleen wholeheartedly pursues her newfound interest in God, which provides her with the intellectual stimulation and calm sense of security she is missing in her tense home.
Sure of her devotion, Cathleen dedicates herself to becoming a nun and joins a local convent, isolated from her family and the life she once knew. Encouraged by the camaraderie with her fellow postulants and the peaceful silence of her initial training under Sister Mary Grace (Dianna Agron, TV’s Glee), Cathleen moves forward with her training as a novitiate. However, as the Catholic Church finds itself on the verge of momentous change and her preparations increase in severity—bringing her in closer contact with the austere and demanding Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo, Prisoners; The Fighter)—Cathleen is forced to decide if the convent and her relationship with God can give her everything she needs.
Supported by outstanding performances, Margaret Betts presents an assured and beautifully captured feature debut, winner of the Breakthrough Director Award at Sundance 2017. Her skillful and nuanced exploration of the pressures facing young Cathleen brings a palpable kindness and universality to her story.
“Both introspective and entertaining, Betts never forgets that her young nuns are still teenage girls, and Novitiate rings as true as any other film about coming of age.” (Kate Erbland, Indiewire)
“This arresting work (…) mesmerizes as it probes a uniquely female-dominated milieu where passions—both religious, sexual and a combination of the two—run hot under those starched, lily-white coils and black habits.” (Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter)
“Novitiate sure-handedly takes us inside the world of belief with care, concern and a piercing, discerning eye.” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)