Review by Ed Nguyen
Catherine Mouchet, Hélène Alexandridis, Aurore Prieto, Clemence Massart-Weit
Director: Alain Cavalier
Audio: French and English Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0
Video: anamorphic widescreen, 1.66:1, color
Studio: Wellspring Media
Features: filmography, trailers
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: February 4, 2003
will spend my Heaven in doing good on Earth.
I will let fall a shower of roses." - St. Thérèse
(1986) is a biographical film based upon the life of a young Carmelite nun. Born Marie-Françoise Thérèse Martin in Alencon, France,
she was the youngest of nine children. The
film chronicles her early efforts to join the sisterhood during the waning years
of the nineteenth century and her subsequent cloistered life in the convent.
At the behest of her Mother Superior, Thérèse also kept a diary.
Her personal remembrances and musings, as recounted within its pages,
were eventually assembled together into a book - Story
of a Soul. Published some time
after Thérèse's death, Story of a Soul quickly
became widely admired for its reflective passages and Thérèse's inspirational
outlook even as the flame of her life slowly expired. To this day, her writings retain immense universal appeal and
serve as the basis for this unique film.
real Thérèse was the last of five surviving sisters, her other siblings having
died in childhood. Consequently,
her father was very protective of his daughters, withholding from them even the
newspapers to shelter his daughters from the world. They did, however, occasionally read the paper while he
napped and return it before he awoke, an amusing anecdote which is reflected in
the film. As a child, Thérèse led
an idyllic life and was a normal little girl, if somewhat prone to illness.
She was educated by Benedictine nuns in Lisieux, and, at age 11, had a
revelatory experience when she was healed of a serious illness by Our Lady of
the Smile. This profound incident
instilled in her a deep desire to enter a religious vocation.
By age 13, she expressed her wish to follow her sisters Marie and Pauline
into the local Carmel, and after a special entreaty delivered all the way up to
Pope Leo XIII, Thérèse entered the Carmel of Lisieux in 1888 at the young age
of 15. Ultimately, all five sisters
joined the convent, four (including Thérèse) as Carmelite nuns, and the fifth
as a Visitation sister.
adopted the religious name of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy
Face. She lived in relative
obscurity and humility. As a
Carmelite nun, she nurtured a simple, childlike spirituality, her "little way," and accepted the varied trials of her life as a
symbol of her love for the grace and will of her God. She never lost her faith, even towards the final hours of her
life. Thérèse was eventually
canonized in 1925, when she would have been 52 years of age. In 1997, Pope John Paul II bestowed upon her the rare title
of Doctor of the Catholic Church in acknowledgment of her contributions to
spirituality and the tremendous, beneficial influence her words have had over
drawing from the autobiographical Story of
a Soul, dramatizes many events from Thérèse's life.
The film has a bold yet restrained vision quite unlike most cinematic
experiences that have preceded it or followed since. Its placid and sometimes introspective passages are
reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's Winter
Light. Furthermore, comparisons
with Dreyer's immortal La Passion de
Jeanne d'Arc (1928) are inevitable, though Thérèse
shines quite admirably in this comparison.
Both films are sympathetic portrayals of French saints, featuring
exceptional performances by lead actresses in their film debut.
Both films are, despite their religious nature, really celebrations of
the human spirit. Director Alain Cavalier, perhaps in tribute to Dreyer, also
employs an extreme minimalist approach. Many
scenes are composed almost entirely of close-ups.
The story is told as much through facial expressions as through dialogue.
Thérèse is notably lacking in
any sentimentality, big dramatic moments, or even action at all.
It is narrated simply and sincerely and is all the more touching for it.
its premiere, Thérèse earned the
very prestigious Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It also later won six César Awards, the French equivalence
of the Oscars. Among those awards
were nods for best picture, best director, and most promising actress against
some extremely good competition that year, including Jean de Florette and Manon des
Sources! However, Thérèse
remains largely unknown outside of France, a reflection of the decidedly
nonexistent commercial appeal of its religious tones and the film's highly
visual atmosphere is a surprisingly avant-garde and barren one.
While costumes are accurately portrayed, all of the film's locales and
settings are suggested solely by the presence of a few furniture pieces on
mostly empty sets. There isn't even
a backdrop, just a grayish wall or else fading shadows. Though there is a deliberate staginess to the film's
appearance, the warm lighting and the unusual set designs manage to truly convey
a sense of realism and tranquility. Many
scenes have an eloquent grace to them - Thérèse's early visits to the Carmel
from the outside world, her tender moments with her sisters, her final meeting
with a local bishop while surrounded by veiled Carmelite nuns.
The effect of the unorthodox cinematography is a suggestion of
timelessness that is in keeping with the old, austere traditions of the
Carmelite order but also serves to focus our attentions entirely on the serene
film, for the most part, is reserved and motionless. Cavalier's camera is mainly an invisible observer and
refrains from any flashy angles or tracking.
Instead, motion is suggested by the rhythm of the editing.
While close-ups are allowed to linger lovingly upon the actresses' facial
expressions, many scenes do not last more than a minute or two.
It is a paradox - a simultaneously brisk yet slowly-paced film.
Many scenes will benefit from some familiarity with the life of St. Thérèse
and will therefore improve with subsequent re-viewings.
In the end, the montage of sparse but contemplative scenes create an
overall quiet radiance to the film and allow the performances to truly shine.
Mouchet, as Thérèse, is outstanding in her debut. She also has an uncanny resemblance to the real St. Thérèse,
who was often remembered as the Little Flower of Jesus. In fact, a floral motif is used repetitively throughout the
film to portray Thérèse's good nature and her faith in her love.
Mouchet brings to her role a fresh, almost child-like naiveté that
belies this unwavering spirituality even when her devotions were tested.
Her understated but strong characterization is the soul of the film. The actress vanishes, leaving behind only Thérèse, and we
believe in her completely. Indeed,
Mouchet is perhaps too good, for later in her career she would encounter
difficulties with type-casting as a result of her memorable performance in Thérèse.
a religious and biographical film, Thérèse
certainly presents an unenviable challenge to any marketing campaign.
Yet while an understanding of Catholicism may yield greater appreciation
for this film, one does not need to be Catholic to enjoy it (I'm not).
There is a purity of heart and sincerity in Thérèse
that transcends its religious intimations and is sadly lacking in most films
nowadays. Like the autobiography
upon which it is based, the film too has the ability to inspire people.
Thérèse, in its own simple
but subtle way, allows us to believe in the inherent goodness of the human
is presented as a 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer.
While the film is free of any glaring artifacts, the picture does have a
small share of dust specks and occasional timing dots.
The picture quality is also pretty soft, particularly in some of the
extremely rare long shots. Colors
look fairly natural, although the skin tone is a slight shade of orange at
times. Overall, Thérèse
has a decent video quality which is adequate but not spectacular.
audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, although it is probably the most sparse
soundtrack I've heard for a sound film. The
subwoofer is completely silent. There
are no sound effects, no ambience backgrounds, no music, nothing.
Well, okay, there is a minute or two of chanting by a nun, but that's
all. The sound is otherwise
comprised entirely of dialogue, which is fairly minimal, at that!
At least this dialogue is clean of noise and easily understood, if
somewhat soft-spoken. Overall,
there is not much to rate here, but the audio, what there is of it, is quite
a curious trivial note, Thérèse was
also nominated for a César Award for best sound!
shelves are pretty barren here, too. Filmographies
are included but are very abbreviated. Better
are the seven trailers for various French films.
Lastly, there is a listing of websites for those interested in learning
more about St. Thérèse de Lisieux.