Whereas many post-1960s religious films focus upon priests racked by internal spiritual torment, the female religious path seems often to run through physical victimization and to end in sainthood (see, for example, Breaking the Waves ). This itinerary is central to Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc , and Joan has interested many filmmakers, particularly French ones, such as Bresson, Jacques Rivette, and Luc Besson. The leading French director of the nouvelle vague , Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), has addressed religion in "Je vous salue, Marie" ( Hail Mary , 1985) and Hélas pour moi ( Woe Is Me , 1993), which link Christian and classical mythological themes to the interest in relationships between older men and younger women found in some of his nonreligious films of the same period. Godard questions the adequacy both of representation in general and of the representation of the divine in particular.

The majority of films about life within the single-sex religious orders are drawn—as cinema is so often—to the female order, in this case the convent, which, even at its best, becomes a place from which to escape into "real life": The Sound of Music (1965) is the most widely disseminated instance. Mainstream cinema's polarization of female images—between adoration and demonization, "the mother and the whore"—is reproduced in convent films, whose nun is either angelic, fun-loving and/or musical, or vaguely sinister and possibly deranged. From Michael Powell's Black Narcissus (1947), whose color stresses the earth-moving status of lipstick applied to a nun's lips, to Jerzy Kawalerowicz's austerely formalized Matka Joanna od aniolów ( Mother Joanna of the Angels , 1961) and Ken Russell's flamboyant The Devils (1971), various films see female celibacy as catalyzing breakdowns far more spectacular than priestly ones. It is thus intriguing to note that one of the most restrained and credible versions of a priest thus tormented should have been the work of a woman, The Third Miracle (1999), by Agnieszka Holland.

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