Over the years, in my unofficial quest to see every film in the Tiffany Shepis oeuvre, I’ve followed La Shepis many places and she’s shown me many things. But never has she shown me anything quite like Nympha, her 2007 flick with filmmaker Ivan Zuccon. But, to be fair, nobody has ever really shown me anything quite like Nympha.
I’d heard of Ivan Zuccon, but I’d never seen any of flicks until now. All I knew about him was that he’s an Italian director. That’s it. And after seeing Nympha, I have to say that, yes, Zuccon is definitely an Italian director—his film is moody and stylish, with generous helpings of nudity, nuns, indelible gory imagery and, of course, a plot that’s rather hard to follow. Though it’s all made (somewhat) clear by the end, much like the Eighth Army’s Italian experience, getting there is a bit of a slog.
Shepis plays Sarah, a young girl who has traveled to Italy to join a cloistered order of heretic nuns who have some peculiar ideas about piety. When she arrives at the convent, she is immediately locked in a cell to pray and become closer to God. While shut away, she begins to sense ghosts of the nunnery’s past. At this point, Nympha’s narrative fractures and we begin to follow the tragic account of Ninfa, the young woman who previously lived in the building and on whose life the nuns’ faith is based. The movie flits back and forth between the two storylines, but they are told in such a way that we don’t know until the end they are connected. This is both interesting and frustrating—interesting because we’re on a journey that feels like it’s going somewhere fairly exciting; frustrating because where the journey ends isn’t at all exciting. The overall plot of the flick is essentially pretty simple, but the manner in which it unfolds makes it all seem extremely dense and disjointed. This begs certain questions: Why did Zuccon and screenwriter Ivo Gazzarrini choose to tell the tale this way? Did they actually think this was effective storytelling, or were they really just trying to goose a slight story? And what about that story? I’m not going to detail any more of it, but know that it involves incest, torture, drug abuse, insanity and fruit farmers. And yes, there’s also that staple of Euro horror: the gratuitous lesbian sex scene.
I can see why Shepis chose this film. Sarah is put though a series of grueling tortures that destroy her senses and allow Shepis to play a variety of emotions. She likes to mix it up and try new things, and Nympha allowed her to stretch as an actress. And I’m sure Shepis doesn’t often get a chance to show her considerable range and snag a trip to Italy at the same time.
On reflection, maybe I’m being flippant. Perhaps the story of Nympha is symbolic and not merely an excuse to trot out all the usual Euro horror tropes in an unusual manner. After all, the flick’s tag line is “Same Lord…New Messiah,” and that practically demands one look deeper, right? Maybe Ninfa’s tale is an allegory for the lives of Christ and the Holy Mother? Maybe the filmmakers are trying to communicate larger ideas about the nature of faith? Or maybe they’re just remaking Tommy with nuns? Well, possibly. I’m almost certainly reading too much into this Italian tempest in a teapot—but, hey, when dealing with the big questions (and Tiffany Shepis), one should always ask.