In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_yevugpgxeuwoic0uu8txgdqcmc2

This Is Where I Leave You

The family gathering comedy is one of the more difficult genres to pull off. Good for Levy for trying something different. But next time he…

Thumb_zero_theorem_ver4

The Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam's first science fiction film since "12 Monkeys" is an inventively designed but oddly inert satire on technology, God and the future of humankind.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Therese

  |  

"Therese" is such a strong, pure, apparently simple movie that there's a temptation to let it carry us along. We don't want to ask questions. And yet at the end of this movie there are so many unanswered questions that we realize the movie is one long question: What was the secret of Therese Martin's joy? She was known as "The Little Flower of Jesus." As a girl, she wanted to enter the strict cloisters of the Carmelite nuns, and when she was refused admission she went all the way to the pope to finally obtain it. Inside the walls, she struck everyone with the openness and sweetness of her disposition, and after she died in 1897 she became famous through the publication of her journal. She was canonized in 1925.

The movie focuses on the depth of her passionate love affair with Jesus. The nuns are figuratively wed to Christ in the ceremony that admits them to the order, and in Therese's case she seems to have taken the wedding not only seriously but literally. In a way, "Therese" is the story of a girl who dies on her honeymoon.

The story is told with stark visual simplicity by Alain Cavalier, who shoots against plain backdrops and includes only those costumes or props that are needed to make sense of a scene. His real visual subject is the human face. And after Therese is admitted to the closed convent, where a vow of silence is usually enforced, the faces themselves seem to speak.

We become familiar with the other nuns: an old woman of great saintliness, a wise mother superior, a young nun who has a crush on Therese and with Therese herself, who is played by Catherine Mouchet with a kind of transparent, low-key ecstasy. There is a real sense of the community of the convent. In one of the movie's best scenes, a man comes from outside to bring gifts of food to the nuns, who cover their faces and flutter around him like blinded birds.

"Therese" is not like any other biographical film of a saint - or of anyone else. It makes a bold attempt to penetrate to the mystery of Therese's sainthood, and yet it isn't propaganda for the church and it doesn't necessarily even approve of her choice of a vocation. Perhaps the local bishop was right in saying Therese was too young for the strenuous life of the convent. Perhaps her devotion to Jesus was indeed, as Andrew Sarris wrote in his review of the film, "displaced sexuality and transubstantiated fetishism." This movie is so deep and so subtle that we cannot ever be sure just what the filmmaker thinks about Therese. That's one of the reasons I found it so disturbing and provoking. What Cavalier gives us is a portrait of the externals of sainthood, and just those internals that can be glimpsed and guessed through the eyes of a gifted actress. He makes no statement about his material. After we leave the movie, we ask ourselves what it was that motivated Therese, and whether perhaps it was good even though it violates modern notions. We also ask ourselves why she was so happy. We would not be happy living her life. But then, we are not saints.

Popular Blog Posts

Now, "Voyager": in praise of the Trekkiest "Trek" of all

As we mourn Abrams’ macho Star Trek obliteration, it’s a good time to revisit that most Star Trek-ian of accomplishme...

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

The Unloved, Part Ten: "The Village"

Part ten in Scout Tafoya's The Unloved series tackles "The Village."

Scorsese Receives Golden Thumb at TIFF Ebert Tribute

A photo gallery offering snapshots from The Ebert Dinner at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus