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John M. Stahl
In 1858 France, Bernadette, an adolescent peasant girl, has a vision of "a beautiful lady" in the city dump. She never claims it to be anything other than this, but the townspeople all assume it to be the virgin Mary. The pompous government officials think she is nuts, and do their best to suppress the girl and her followers, and the church wants nothing to do with the whole matter. But as Bernadette attracts wider and wider attention, the phenomenon overtakes everyone in the the town, and transforms their lives. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Henry King himself directed the screen tests, instructing his actresses to look beyond the camera at a shining light. Jennifer Jones was the immediate front runner, as - according to King - she didn't just look, she saw. See more »
When Bernadette's sisters hike their skirts to cross the river, one of them is obviously wearing 1940s panties. See more »
Last night when I came here, it was very dark. It's much lighter now.
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The credits say "Introducing Jennifer Jones as Bernadette", even though Jones had already appeared in several films under her real name, Phyllis Isley. See more »
The weighty subject matter and emotional performances overshadow the film's flaws, which are numerous. Characters and events are not adequately introduced, leaving the viewer with a persistent, though not overwhelming, confusion. It runs a little long, and at times loses focus. But "The Song of Bernadette" has much to redeem it. This is true black and white cinematography, and Henry King uses highly effective lighting techniques to enhance his actors' performances. The bright lighting and soft focus on Jennifer Jones, for example, makes her angelic pose of peace believable.
One scene near the end of the film is utterly beautiful, and truly makes the movie. It takes place at a convent after Bernadette has been accepted as a nun. Sister Marie Vauzous, who has doubted Bernadette the entire film, stands over her in a pose of authority and accuses her of trying to get attention. Sister Marie is lit from an angle at sharp focus, which accentuates the lines and imperfections of her face as she asks for "proof" and laments about her own suffering. Meanwhile, Bernadette is lit straight on with a soft focus as usual, and the smoothness of her peaceful, humble face is perfect and divine. She agrees with Sister Marie that she is "a hundred times more worthy" than herself, all the while hiding the true nature of her own suffering. It is at this point that the Christian theme of salvation through suffering which has meandered its way through the film really makes its point, and it is a genuinely moving moment.
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