The life of St. Thérèse de Lisieux, a young Carmelite nun who died of tuberculosis, is the inspiration for this spare, sincere French film. The obsessively religious Thérèse (Catherine Mouchet) fights to be allowed to jo... more »in the rigorous order of nuns, taking her petition all the way to the Pope himself. After becoming part of the sisterhood, Thérèse takes joy in the strict rituals and devotions, until she develops tuberculosis and her inner connection with God suddenly leaves her; despite this, she never loses faith, and writes a private diary (which, when published after her death, became hugely popular). The settings of every scene are depicted only by furniture; the neutral background puts all the focus on the rich performances of the actors, including Hélène Alexandridis as a young nun who falls in love with Thérèse. An elegant film, perhaps best appreciated by Catholics. --Bret Fetzer« less
Penelope Schmitt | Wilmington, NC United States | 02/19/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This intimate, intense little film shows the making of a saint `from the outside.' When I first saw it, I was so impressed by the portrait of young Therese Martin that I learned all I could about the icon she became to the Roman Catholic World. The after-death publication of her stubby-pencil autobiography "The Story of a Soul" captured the attention of the devout. She rapidly came to be known as `The Little Flower' or "St. Therese of Lisieux" and was canonized in 1927, becoming co-patroness of France with St. Joan of Arc, and a "doctor of the church". The film shows us this giant figure of the faith as she appeared within the hermitically sealed world of a Carmelite convent-a little girl with quietly extraordinary qualities. No music or heavenly light announces her holiness. The scenes are barren, the light is directional and shadowed, as in a Caravaggio painting. The film presents a series of vignettes, as though on as shallow stage. Within each one, she seems to seek to hide, not allowing herself to dramatize even her own illness and approaching death. But the reactions of other sisters reveal her. An elderly nun chooses her as confessor, surrendering to her the one private possession she has retained, against the rules, for 50 years. A confused and unhappy young sister responds to her clear-eyed and loving compassion. A crabby older sister showers her with flowers and asks her for the relic of a fingernail clipping, astonished that she is unable to withhold her homage. Most important, her Mother Superior, who alone knows her secret desire to become a great saint, requires that she write down the thoughts of her heart, knowing that they will be important. Believers will be moved, the merely curious may find themselves breathless.
One vignette in particular, stays with me as a beautifully rendered cinematic explication of her character. I have never in all my researches on St. Therese encountered a narrative that `validates' the scene, but it has a haunting truthfulness. Therese is working in the kitchen with another sister. A box is delivered. When opened, it proves to contain a huge, live lobster. Therese boldly lifts it, though she is clearly frightened and awed by its claws and its repulsive appearance. But it is too large for her hand, and falls heavily to the floor, writhing and snapping on its back. She bends over, rights the thing, and picks it up. As she bends, blood streams from her mouth-a hemorrhage from the lungs, and the first sign we see in the film of the tuberculosis that will painfully kill her. She smiles radiantly to her companion sister, wiping the blood away, and saying that she `bit her tongue.' Thus, Therese faces death. I am struck by this scene because it reflects another painful scene in Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot. A tubercular young student recounts a nightmare in which he is trapped in a room with a huge scorpion he knows he cannot escape. His terror and horror at this entrapment by inexorable death contrast strongly with Therese's outward reaction, though we later learn that she, too, is afraid. The difference? She boldly asserts her fear as a test of her faith, and continues to give herself to the God she no longer can see.
I see that some reviewers have been unnecessarily disturbed by the young nun who is so attached to Therese. This isn't a sick modern-day attempt to introduce'lesbianism' into the convent. It illustrates that one of the great difficulties religious must face is the inevitable temptation to form special attachment to another individual. Such special, individual love IS a problem for those trying to focus all love on an invisible God. Watch closely. You will see that Therese knows her fellow sister is troubled. Clear-sightedly, but lovingly, she refuses to participate in that exclusivity. The disturbing scene in which this sister eats sputum Therese has coughed up from her dying lungs is clearly based in the girl's attempt to emulate the actions of St. Catherine of Siena, who drank water used to wash a leper's skin. This action is 'perverse' only to those who do not understand it as an attempt to participate sacrificially in another's human suffering. Where the young sister is 'wrong' is that she would do such an action 'for Therese' but probably not for a stranger who is, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta would put it "Jesus in a distressing disguise." Therese herself costantly reveals less self-dramatizing sacrifices in her 'Story of a Soul.' To some, she appears extremely neurotic. To me, her 'craziness' appears the insanity conferred by divine love. Such madness for love of God will always look bizarre to non-participants."
Not for Everyone
eduardo | Massapequa, NY | 03/22/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Keep in mind that the director of this film was an atheist, and that one of his primary purposes in filming it was to experiment with a new/different cinematic style. Therefore, no fancy sets or backgrounds, just a concentration on the life of a very devout, simple, and loving young girl. Not her whole life, only bits and pieces of how she thought, what she said and did, and what life in a Cloistered Convent was like. l've seen this movie several times, and not once did l see any overt or obvious act of the so-called lesbianism. See it for its spititual message, and keep in mind that after this movie was released there was a solid increase in applications to Carmelite Convents and a more solid interest in the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower."
Not your usual story.
Scott | New York, United States | 03/22/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"First and foremost, this is not a traditional biographical movie. It is a theatrical, artsy, series of vignettes. Very French.
Secondly, there is very little that can be interpreted as being anti-Catholic, or scornful of Therese. The ancient expression of Christ as husband and lover may be surprising to modern ears, but it was part and parcel of Carmelite spirituality.
Likewise, one may not like to see flagellation and self-mortification through pain, but that is part of the tradition of the ascetic life, and not something to be ignored because it's uncomfortable.
Whether you enjoy the film or not, its basic presentation is not anti-Catholic or a betrayal of the life of Therese.
At the same time, you must read her writings yourself if you want to have any sense of this amazing young woman of God. "
Most realistic portrayal of The Little Flower I've ever seen
Gadget Queen | 03/07/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unlike some of the more vehement reviews citing flaws, I saw this film as an unprecedentedly REALISTIC view of a saint I have read about for over 40 years. One must realize that life in the 19th century was not convenient or easy--and the convent life depicted reflects various aspects of that. Also, French culture at the time of her life was tolerant of much innocent physical demonstrations of love among family members--also depicted in the film. Comments about St. Therese calling Christ her lover are obviously oblivious to the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assissi, St. John of the Cross, and the Lord Himself in the Bible in "The Song of Songs". To assign other vulgar meanings to these references by her in the movie is uneducated and parochial. I found this movie to be one of the most beautiful I have ever seen about her life. And if anyone things the sets were stark, I invite them to visit the Carmelite convent where Therese lived and died--compared to that, the sets used in the movie were luxurious! A definite good work on the life of a Saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church!!"
The best movie about Saint Therese
jrockett | 03/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Recently a new movie came out about Saint Therese. I must say that it's nice to see the attempt at making Catholic oriented films, but the new movie is quite bad and perhaps shouldn't have been made. This film, however, is wonderful. It's filmed in the style of a stage production, so no LucasArts lightening bolts, etc., here, but it doesn't pretend to be anything more than that. In a way it's simplicity is quite fitting when we consider the message of Therese ("the little way"). I highly suggest this film even if you don't think you're into watching "Catholic" movies. There's a beautiful life story here, and it's told very well. A great family film that doesn't feel like a family film.