Excellent TV mini converted into abbreviated film for TV
Whether looking at paintings by Velázquez, Zurbarán or Murillo, or by Tiziano, Botticelli, or by Van Eyck, or whether listening to Masses and Requiems by Berlioz, Rachmaninov, Brahms or Verdi, I tend to take on an aesthetic attitude and of course a historical contemplation of what my eyes and/or ears are perceiving. Religious aspects do not take part in any appreciation of anything which may be a work of art.
This same philosophy stands me in good stead when watching what at first appraisal is a religious film, be it for the cinema or for TV. My mind focusses not only on the story being told - often too well known, anyway - but on the acting, the sets, the dialogues, the accompanying music, and so on. Apart from that, religious significance for me has little o no interest whatsoever.
From 1492, when Columbus sailed the wide ocean and found what he thought was India, up to the death of Teresa de Jesús 90 years later, Spain went through rather traumatic experiences. The `Reyes Católicos' sowed havoc among the populace with their fiendish interpretation of religiousness, Carlos V opened up to a more tolerant attitude, and Felipe II immediately slammed all that shut with beraged intolerance, producing the Inquisition and all the disaster resulting thereof.
Given such a background, Teresa emerged from the cold high plateaux of the deepest interior of the Iberian peninsular to become a nun. Daughter of a Jew who converted to Catholicism - hardly surprising amid the socio-religious upheavals taking place - and one of ten children, she joined the Carmelite sect and went on to found her own `descalzas' -literally `shoeless' or `barefoot'.
This film takes up from her early twenties and goes through to her death, following her life around the high lands of Ávila, the Encarnación Monastery, and her later travels around most of central Spain, reaching as far afield as Aragón and Sevilla. Faithfully recreated from the anals of time by the historian Víctor García de la Concha, specialist in Spanish medieval matters, who helped in writing the script with novelist Carmen Gaite, this film mostly avoids being sanctimonious or preachy. The film is accompanied by music from José Nieto, though on some occasions I detected certain other sources, most notably a piece which sounded like `tafelmusik' by Georg Philippe Telemann - more than a hundred years later. It gave rise to my hopes of hearing something by Tomás Luis de Victoria, also from Ávila and coinciding in time with Mother Teresa, one of the great examples of early polyphony later taken up by the Italians.
Mother Teresa herself wrote a lot, including poetry which later became categorized as `mystic', a leaning also taken up by Juan de Yepes y Álvarez - San Juan de la Cruz/St. John of the Cross - who appears in this film, as well as the mysticism of Fray Luis de León, following on from the Archpriest of Hita, himself outrageously prone to remarkable romantic - sexual - verses.
Concha Velasco was born to do something in this life: her role in this film is her crowning achievement; nothing else comes anywhere near her interpretation of this 16th Century saint. Only `Más Allá del Jardín' (1997) (qv) is worthy of mention, as anything else in which she has taken part has either been minimal or trivial. But in this excellent production, directed by Josefina Molina, who also carries out her own particular masterpiece, Ms Velasco reaches the absolute peak of her creative ability.
Precisely in the Monastery of the `Encarnación' a chamber organ was found more or less when this film was being made: lost for over 400 years the `organillo de la Teresita' was discovered in an underground vault; it has now been restored and is the oldest working organ in the world.
This shortened version of the original series has a few inexcusable editing faults. Some scenes even include interrupted dialogues, with the ensuing sudden shift of scenario that is somewhat off-putting. Another fault here is the absolutely essential inclusion of a voice in off who narrates certain passages so as to link up the scissored continuity - or perhaps I should say discontinuity. The result is a little harrowing a couple of times, but with some misgivings has to be admitted as necessary for the well-being of the whole. Even so, at just over 220 minutes it would be advisable to show/see this version in two parts, or - better still - show/see the full original 1984 uncut TV series in its natural episodes of approximately 1 hour each.
The Spanish used is pure `Castillian' - that is, the most neutral and unregionalised, which will be of special interest to students of the Spanish language.
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