Sundance 2021 Review: Rebel Hearts

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

85/100

 

SYNOPSIS: During the 1960s, a tight-knit group of progressive nuns in Hollywood discarded their habits and gleefully oversaw a radical women’s college grounded in social activism. Spearheaded by sisters Anita Caspary, Helen Kelley, and Corita Kent (also a renowned pop artist), Immaculate Heart College ensured women received degrees at an unprecedented rate and crested a tidal wave of social change that engulfed the nation. But as the nuns marched on Selma and transformed the education system, they incurred the wrath of the archbishop of Los Angeles and, with him, the church’s entrenched old guard.

With a mixture of defiance and joy, Rebel Hearts reveals one of the biggest religious showdowns of the twentieth century, which pitted a delightfully noncomforming group of feminist nuns against a powerful patriarchy insistent on female subservience. Pedro Kos’s euphoric and essential documentary reveals a groundbreaking sisterhood that not only flipped the bird—politely—at the Catholic Church’s brazen misogyny but, through their teachings, fundamentally reshaped American society.

REVIEW: “Changing is what keeps us growing.” Rebel Hearts directed by Pedro Kos is one of those rare festival gems. Featured in the US Documentary Competition this movie tackles religion, feminism, and the patriarchy through animation, archival and current day footage. As a Catholic and women’s college graduate the stories of the Sisters at Immaculate Heart College, in Los Feliz, CA,  Rebel Hearts spoke to me on a very personal level.

The women featured in this documentary are the epitome of kick ass. From the get go these women were out to challenge the patriarchy and what it meant to be a nun. Many of them said they joined the convent as a way to get out of marriage and as a means to obtain education. Along the way they received a fierce push back from Cardinal McIntyre when decried the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for promoting liberalism and straying away from their vows. In his words, “they were becoming way too modern”. This doc exposes the past and present unsavoriness of the Catholic Church.

It also discusses the radical change brought about by Vatican II. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary welcomed these changes because it “encouraged them to explore new ways of living”. They used this opportunity to form commissions to discuss changes in religious ways of life and take agency on their own life as women and Sisters. These Sisters marched with Dr. King in Selma, AL, had lunch with Coretta King, protested the war in Vietnam, supported reform to the labor conditions of farm workers, and endorsed the abolishment of the death penalty. Throughout this process they learned about the cause of justice, peace, and social activism.

The Sisters were arrested many times and they were okay with that. They claimed that “if you really think something is wrong it is important to put your body on the line” and that they did. This culminated with their participation in the 2017 Women’s March among other protests like defending DACA and putting an end to human trafficking. They argued that protest with joy has the power to transform everyone that’s a part of it. Following the dispensation of their vows the former Sisters still continue being an active part of the Los Angeles community. Their passion for justice is what drives them and it continues to this day.

Recommended.

Rebel Hearts Interrogation Clip

Rebel Hearts is currently playing the Sundance 2021 Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

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