Friday, May 25, 2007

Therese (2003)

I have rather mixed feeling about this adaption of the life of St. Therese of Lisieux to film. Of course no film could match the beauty of her real life, and of her autobiography Story of a Soul. And yet the movie Therese fell just slightly flat, and in most ways didn't even provide a satisfactory portrayal of the saint.

The biggest problem with the film is that it's too rushed. An hour and a half is hardly enough time to properly show the greatness of this young girl's life and death. While the most important points of her life are touched upon, they are no more than touched upon. Therese's mother, Zelie Martin, dies almost instantly after being introduced, and all that those unfamiliar with the story understand is that Therese is very sorrowful over it. One can see from the grief that the Martin's display by her coffin that she must have been a wonderful wife and mother, but there is no indication of the great suffering she went through and the great holiness she achieved, nor the profound influence she had on her children. To those who already know this, it's still a disappointment to see nothing of it.

It was very disappointing to me to see the rather contrived and hurried way in which Therese chose Pauline as her 'little mother.' However, the relationship between them was built nicely. In fact Pauline was the only other who was shown as having any real relationship with Therese. Leonie and Marie were left entirely in the background, and though Celine appeared briefly on occasion, so many trying and wonderful moments between her and Therese were left out. The relationship between Therese and her father was established enough, but to those who are familiar with the deep love they had for one another, not close to satisfaction.

Therese's childhood is breezed over. We see her at school, and are given a brief taste of the suffering she endured there, though most of the actual incidents are replaced with more modern-day snide remarks of fellow students. Her illness is included, as well as her Christmas conversion. Both hint at the spiritual impact these two events had on her soul, but no more.

The first half of the movie deals mostly with Therese's life before her entrance into Carmel, and while we catch glimpses of her growth in holiness, no real foundation is laid. Many of the attempts to show her spiritual progress fall flat... very like Charlotte Bronte's rather over-the-top portrayal of Helen Burns in Jane Eyre. Her goodness was staged on many occasions, just to make sure we didn't miss it.

Things improved after her entrance, and we begin to see a little more clearly into Therese's soul. While her childhood was written as just a bit overly-sweet and on occasion rather sappy, her life in the convent is touched with a bit more grace, humour, and the genuine sweetness of her character.

Indeed, the movie progressed in beauty as it went on, and the end was truly moving.

In general, the movie seemed to be rather amateur with some flashes of brilliance. The cinematography was very clumsy for the most part, with much shaking and some of the rather over-done quick zoom-ins and outs. And yet every so often there would be an extremely gorgeous shot.

The acting for the most part was rather stilted and awkward (with the exception of Linda Hayden, who played the role of Pauline). Lindsay Younce, who plays Therese, spoke her lines very dryly, particularly in the voice-overs. And, yet, she had a gentle and peaceful way of smiling that caught one instantly, and an eloquence in her facial expressions. Her portrayal of Therese's death was beautiful and tragic, and captured very well her great love for God in the midst of her great suffering.

Judged by all these things, I would classify the movie as an attempt rather than an achivement. And yet I still find it beautiful, moving, and one of my favourites. The story of Therese really cannot be dimmed, despite many flaws with the adaption, and even a rather stilted glimpse at her life is deeply inspiring. And perhaps this is fitting. Her 'Little Way' was so very little that even the littlest and simplest of productions is able to capture at least her essence.

I do recommend the movie, but not solely on its own merit. It is better appreciated with the full knowledge of this saint's life. Therese is a start, but Story of a Soul is one of the most beautiful and eloquently written love stories of all time. The movie, despite all that it lacks, and despite that which is poorly done, still is lovely, but the real and true story is an experience beyond words.

St. Therese, pray for us!


Willa said...

Dear daughter,
I waited to read your review until after I watched the movie. After watching it, I agree with your take on its moments of beauty and excellence as well as its limitations. Particularly, I had the same impression that the movie caught something of the essence of Therese's life, even though it missed rather painfully on many of the key details.

The death scene transcended the rest of the movie and seemed to partake of the reality of her life more than any other part of it, I thought. It was so vivid to me that I felt that in some way I had shared in her life during that time. This was a feeling that the rest of the movie did not evoke in me, as lovely an effort as it was.

"Her 'Little Way' was so very little that even the littlest and simplest of productions is able to capture at least her essence."

Well said! I liked your whole review very much.

Faith said...

Have you seen the 1986 French film, Therese? I saw it way back then. It is an exquistely beautiful movie, almost completely silent, as I recall. The silence was one of it most powerful elements. It is a very austere movie but very beautiful and moving. I don't know if you can get ahold of it, but I would love to see it again. If you do see, it would be wonderful to compare it with the 2003 version. To tell you the truth, I couldn't even bring myself to see the newer one because I was so moved by the former.