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The transparent simplicity of this film seems to match the spirituality and sanctity of St. Theresa, who said that after her death she wished to be referred to as "Little Therese." Her spirituality was unique in that Little Therese sought to please God by accepting whatever came her way. She did not engage in the rigors of physical asceticism and penance. Acceptance of the will of God and humility are the hallmarks of her spiritual system. Information about her life was taken from her note book, written in pencil. The Mother superior, obviously an insightful woman, told her to write about herself. This is an excellent film that depicts the spirituality of Little Therese and also of the other Carmelite nuns who lived with her. There are many details depicted about her illness and personal habits. Curiously, the actress who portrays Saint Therese bears a remarkable resemblance to her. Little Therese died at the age of 24. Pope John Paul II declared Little Therese a Doctor of the Catholic Church, a title given only rarely to individual saints who contributed in some way to spirituality or learning.
One of the reviewers of this film said that it was perhaps the most
boring ever made. I might agree with him if not for the fact that each
scene is set up so perfectly, exactingly austere yet very rich. The
palette the director chooses for his canvass are soft browns, blacks,
muted whites. Certain scenes delight with their unexpectedness- the
three fish that are given to Therese by her invalid father, the gift of
the wooden Christchild at Christmas, and the flagellation scene.
You might say "Therese" is a religious film, but then one could also make the argument that this film displays an asceticm both neurotic and self-absorbed. It is certainly not the standard by which we judge "spirituality" these days; however for centuries this is the way a good part of Christendom sought the divine.
This film is certainly anything but boring. It is unusual, enlightening and a small delight to the senses in much the manner of an Emily Dickinson poem.
Arguably the best movie dealing with religion since Maurice Cloche's
"Monsieur Vincent".Ste Therese de Lisieux is one of the most popular
saints of all time.I saw statues of her in Hungarian churches and
elsewhere.Alain Cavalier makes his comeback with this work.His best are
earlier movies like "le combat de l'île" and "l'insoumis'.But "Therese"
does not seem to come from the director of those two former
works.Bresson's shadow hangs over all the movie,but ,if Cavalier's work
is as austere and stripped of embellishment as "le journal d'un curé de
campagne" auteur,he lets some sunshine in these thick walls.These
foolish things,that make a life worthwhile turn up at every corner of
the screenplay:the lobster -it's the devil !,a little nun says-the nuns
dancing and sipping Champagne,the nun's former fiancé who always loves
her . More than a linear story,we attend vignettes of everyday life in
the cloister.No music at all,which is a very good idea.No
sensationalism,no pathos,it's the simple life of humble Therese whose
face is beaming all along the movie and whose short life was totally
devoted to Jesus,and thus was not that much sad.At 80 or more,some
people are still looking for their way.
Catherine Mouchet does not play the part:she is Therese.But this role left its mark so deeply on her career that it was very hard for her to find a follow-up. So far,she did not.
Cavalier made his movie from a completely impartial standpoint.He shows us the dark side of this convent life: -Give her morphin,the doctors says!as Therese develops tuberculosis
-Our saviour didn't have any ,a nun answers.
-But he only suffered for a few hours!
-He's STILL suffering when he sees our poor world.
If you are looking for something different,for something which maybe will make you see the others differently,take a chance on this movie.
NB:After the critically-acclaimed "Thérèse" ,Jean Delannoy tried to jump onto the bandwagon and made a "Bernadette" who got unanimous thumbs down
Enjoyed this film starring Catherine Mouchet, (St. Therese of Lisieux) who wanted at a very early age to become a Nun and was refused by her own Priest and clergy of her faith. Therese also went to the Pope and was declined and had to wait for about two years. This film shows the deep love Therese had for her Lord and other sister's whom she pours her heart and soul into helping others. There is a grave illness that Therese develops and she refuses to take any medicine for the pain and suffering and prays constantly to her Lord and Savior. Great look into the life of a young girl who wanted nothing else in life but to become a loving person for others.
I recall this being shown one Friday afternoon while in secondary school (a Catholic college no less); rewatching THERESE now, I can't fathom what my reaction might have been at the time since it is far more stark (to the point where there are barely any sets!) than the Vittorio Cottafavi TV-film about the same subject which preceded the viewing. Incidentally, while the latter was interesting in depicting the inquiry into the Carmelite nun's canonization (without her ever appearing on-screen), this purports to present her actual life but does it in a such a fragmentary, low-key manner (evoking memories of the work of one of my favorite auteurs, Robert Bresson) as to shed no more light on her professed saintliness: in this respect, the two films are in perfect agreement while rendering the version under review somewhat pointless! Mind you, artistically, THERESE is undeniably sound if drawing unwarranted attention to itself (especially in the obscure insistence on detail which is sometimes decidedly revolting!) with Catherine Mouchet's central performance proving similarly compelling. Anyway, the film caught the critics' attention at the time winning a great many Cesar awards (France's equivalent to the Oscar) and, as I intimated in my introduction, made the rounds internationally in an English-dubbed version (in spite of its limited commercial appeal).
As an avid reader of St. Therese's writings myself, I thought I'd
explore the available film portrayals about her life. This movie is
quite literally a "screen play," quite obviously filmed on a soundstage
with most of the scenes framed in front of gray backdrops. The
colorless backgrounds cause one to focus more on the expressions and
mannerisms of the characters, and also allow one to experience the
richness of the sound (though many sound effects, such as that of a cat
eating raw fish, are not exactly pleasing). In addition, the narrative
basically stays true to the main events of Therese's life. Life in the
convent was tough and exacting, and the stark manner in which it is
portrayed gets that point across very effectively.
In spite of these strengths, the movie has its weaknesses and it does not (in my opinion) give a complete picture of Therese. One aspect of Therese that it does not do a good job of showing is her great intelligence, which really shines through when one reads her writings. Therese in this movie often seems to be a female counterpart of Gomer Pyle, a sort of dimwitted young Sister who smiles at the sufferings Jesus throws her way in much the same way that Gomer might smile after receiving a butt-chewing from Sgt. Carter. Her keen mental prowess is seen mainly in the first few scenes of the movie as she plots to save the souls of sinners and to gain entrance to the convent--once entering the convent, one gets the sense that Therese is nothing if not witless.
While portraying the mortification of the flesh that Therese practiced as a Carmelite (e.g. by wearing a cross close to her chest that had nails in the back of it), the movie does not show other important aspects of Therese's convent life that are less jarring but more important to understanding her philosophy. For example, one hardly sees Therese's "little way," the constant small sacrifices that she made for her Carmelite sisters on a daily basis that went largely unnoticed during her lifetime. The movie tends to dwell too much on those aspects of Carmelite tradition (and of Therese's life) that are more jarring to modern sensibilities and less on aspects of her life that might be perceived as more admirable. For example, one doesn't see that Therese was a prolific writer for her entire adult life (which she was, churning out enough letters, poems, prayers, and plays over nine years to fill several books--not to mention her autobiography). Therese was also a strong and exacting leader, put in charge of the novices for a few years toward the end of her life; in the movie she is portrayed as more of a servile follower.
The movie, while not overtly taking sides as to the veracity of Therese's faith, does seem to view the 19th century nunnery through a late 20th-century lens by portraying things that would not have been discussed if they ever had happened. For example, one nun seems to have (barely) repressed lesbian tendencies While another appears to be a man who has managed to pass as a sister. While titillating the imaginations of moviegoers by throwing in a bit of scandal, these anecdotes do little to help us understand who Therese really was.
Perhaps a 90-120 minute movie can never give total balance to any person, but the Therese that is portrayed in this movie is not the same sharp, tough-yet-sentimental figure whom I met in her writing. As a piece of cinematography, though, it does have its own strengths and should not be passed up solely because of the weaknesses I have outlined.
I'm a believer, but that one is really too much for me. "Thérèse" might be the most boring film ever made. One might say that subject is not precisely a cheerful one, and that it's all interiority, but Cavalier plays it too austere, mistaking Ste Thérèse for Jansenius. There must be a way to show faith on the screen other than Hollywood or Robert Bresson.
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