The Little Flower – The Movie (or rather, the Movies)

4 01 2009

therese

It may surprise the reader to learn that St. Therese of Lisieux is a saint who has played a huge role in my life. I must have read her autobiography cover to cover four times, and have read many other books about her. From the neurotic teenager to the young monastic novice, St. Therese’s Little Way got me through many a night. Although I have now definitively put most of that stuff away as a grown man of the world, nostalgia for a time when I looked to her as my prime example of the spiritual life still overtakes me. Even though all of that is so far away now, I cannot help but still respect the one saint who apparently did the least to achieve her prominence among the Catholic faithful.

Recently, I finally watched the Alain Cavalier’s French film Therese on the life of the beloved saint. The film was less a biographical film than a series of vignettes that take place around the life of St. Therese. With minimal stage props and a background always in gray or light brown, the whole film has the feel of a play, or even a passion play, with pretty decent actresses playing normal women living in extraordinary circumstances. One never gets the sense of Therese (played by dead-ringer Catherine Mouchet) being some sort of iconic heroine. She’s just a girl with a lot of neuroses and a lot of dreams. The lack of soundtrack, the portrait shots, and the ever-present quotations from the Song of Songs, give a real portrayal of the religious life as it would have been lived in the late nineteenth century. I at least was also very aware while watching it that many women became nuns because not a lot of other options were open to them. It was, as most people’s lives back then, very harsh and not at all glamorous. (The fish gutting scene was the best one in this regard.) Nevertheless, sanctity often grows out of necessity, not aside from it.

I could not help but compare this movie to the recent Leonardo Defilippis film by the same name; an amateurish production that attempted to make the life of Therese Martin into a techicolor dream world. I was rooting for it to work, but it just fell short in every sense. Their petit-bourgeois family life is so ideal, with only a Disney-like portrayal of hardship. The convent looked more like a girls’ camp than a religious house, and Lindsey Younce played the protagonist like a saint with her halo on too tight. In the end, it was a thoroughly American film in that it had no sense of history or continuity, always wanting to triumph over harsh reality with forced optimism, and so shining with false radiance that it seems like the people represented in the film had had all the blood drained from their bodies. It is the film of the American Catholic right looking itself in the mirror.

What I liked about the Cavalier film is that it brought back memories, mostly of my Lefebvrist seminary. The menial tasks, the barren cells, the silent work periods, the bitter cold and heat all speak of things that no one can imagine who has not gone through them. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am hesitant to speak directly on theological topics, and only refer to them obliquely many times. I know that we in this world outside of those places  live in too much noise to listen to the voice of God. I look at the journals I kept while in the cloister and see another person, a simpler person, that I in many ways no longer understand. The Cavalier movie for me at least can take me back to that world of joyful sorrow, to quote Schmemann, a world where you have nothing yet possess much, a world where only God matters and all you do is think of Him. It is nothing to be envied since we know that God is a consuming fire, and fire burns. But that fire is beautiful nonetheless.

All I know is that the Defilippis film did a great disservice to the poor saint, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Like most Catholic discourse in this country, it is affected by a false nostalgia for a past that never was. You’re better off reading the book.

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3 responses

21 05 2010
Rachel

I beg to differ with you! actually the Defillippis film on Therese is one of a kind! that movie is what got me attracted to St. Therese, at a very young age! ever since, I have been studying her and reading books on her! I am only 13 years of age, and allready know more than the average person about the saint! last summer I worked at a carmelite monastery! and I learned ALOT about the life of carmelites while I was there! the defillippis film is a perfect example of her life, and I recommend the movie to EVERYONE that ever wants to know more about her! another great way to learn more about er is to read the book ” The Intimate Life of St. Therese” By: Father Dolan. this preist actually wen and got to speak with St. Therese’ sisters several times! just so that he could get more info on Therese to write his book! it is the best book that I have ever read!

21 05 2010
Rachel

I saw both the movies that you wrote in your article and I have to say, that the defillippis one was by far the better one! it has beauitiful music and it all is just so wonderful! but the other one, it has no music, no info on how she felt…exc….it didn’t show enough of her life. it only showed little snippets of her life! and even I, who as I said before, who knows alot about her, barely understood what was going on in the “caveliers” “Therese” movie! but if you take a book on her and rad it as you watch the defillippis film, you will find that there isn’t too much missing! obviously there are things missing, because it would be a very very very long movie if they put in everything there was to know!

7 09 2014
Machinima Soundtrack

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