Friday, October 1, 2010

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus

Thérèse (2004)
Movie review by Steven D. Greydanus

Thérèse’s impact on the world has been startlingly disproportionate to her obscure way of life. Her memoir, L’histoire d’une âme or Story of a Soul, has been translated into over 60 languages, first in a heavily edited edition produced by her sister and then in a restored critical edition, and has sold over 100 million copies. . . .

“Ordinary girl. Extraordinary soul” is the tagline of Thérèse, Catholic actor-director Leonardo Defilippis’s reverent, uplifting, straightforward biopic of the Little Flower. Of the tagline’s two clauses, the film’s special burden seems to be the first part, “ordinary girl.” As depicted here, Thérèse (played in childhood by Melissa Sumpter and from approximately 10 to her death by Lindsay Younce) is certainly pious and devout, but unlike many movie saints there’s nothing off-puttingly otherworldly or ethereal about her. . . .

Despite its flaws, Thérèse is sweet, inspirational moviemaking that will be enjoyed by Catholics who love the Little Flower, or who are open to learning about her. Promotional materials cite the Merchant-Ivory film A Room With a View as a touchstone, but Thérèse is closer in spirit to such inspirational classics as The Song of Bernadette, and is old-fashioned enough to accompany moments of disorientation or reverie with a tinkly harp effect on the soundtrack. Unlike the Merchant-Ivory films, it isn’t interested in psychology or complex motivations, but in faith and goodness.

Miracle of Saint Thérèse (1952)
Movie review by Steven D. Greydanus

. . . Neither the vaguely sentimental-sounding English title Miracle of Saint Therese nor the strangely officious original French title Procès au Vatican (Cause in the Vatican) really reflects the achievement of this well-made biopic.

The film does begin and end with documentary-style footage of Thérèse’s cause for canonization. And it does include a number of small miracles, including Thérèse’s dramatic recovery at the age of eight from a life-threatening illness upon seeing a statue of Mary smile at her, and the adorning of her entry into Carmel by an unusual April snowfall.

Yet the film is neither the story of a miracle nor a treatise on Thérèse’s case for canonization, unless the miracle and the case are both Thérèse’s own life. Blending historical drama with elements of documentary, Miracle of Saint Thérèse effectively brings the saint’s story and spirituality to life.

The film offers a number of glimpses into Therese’s “little way” of spiritual childhood, including the conflict occasioned by the contrast between Therese’s insights and the accepted pieties of the day. . . .


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