Pleasantly Surprised

(Review of Therese)

Today I went with some parishioners to see the movie Therese. I have to admit my expectations had been lowered by some comments I read in the past few days. I was afraid the film would be a pietistic, saccharine, one-dimensional portrayal of the saint. Most of all, I feared that it would be boring and that I would nod off. That did not happen. On the whole I was pleasantly surprised. Although it obviously did not match the intensity of The Passion of the Christ, the film held my attention from beginning to end. That also seemed to be the case for the others in the theater which was over half full. I didn’t notice people getting up for the bathroom (as happens when my sermons lag), shuffling in their seats or talking. Many families came with teenage and younger children. I asked a number of them afterwards if they liked the movie and in general they seemed enthusiastic.

As someone who has read and re-read Therese’s Autobiography, I liked the movie a lot. It showed the impact of her mother’s death when Therese was a small child – and the remarkable love of her dad in caring for Therese and her sisters. It depicted her Christmas Eve conversion when the Lord enabled her to stop bursting into tears at the smallest slight. It credibly presented how I Cor 13 (St. Paul’s hymn to love) inspired her vocation, how she lived that vocation by little acts of sacrifice – especially toward an elderly sister and a sister with a difficult personality. And above all, the movie brought home what it would have been like to suffer and die at early age from tuberculosis. On her deathbed, she faced not only great physical suffering but also a terrible spiritual darkness.

A couple of people commented to me that the movie went quickly, that it seemed too short. I agree. One scene I would have have expanded was her trip to Rome. Several priests were part of the pilgrimage and Therese saw both their bad, as well as good, sides. She does not go into detail about their misbehavior. It may have gambling or drinking, perhaps some swearing or flirting. Whatever it was, Therese became aware of how important it is to pray for priests – and she dedicated her vocation to that prayer.

Of course, no movie – even a series the length of Brideshead Revisited – could adequately depict this multi-faceted saint. And no doubt, the movie had technical flaws which need to be critiqued so that other Christian film makers can learn from them. Still, Leonardo Defilippis and his backers took a significant risk and worked hard to bring the life of Therese to the big screen. They deserve our gratitude and support. May Therese inspire other filmmakers to bring us movies which struggle with the meaning of redemption and holiness.

Note: After leaving the theater, I asked the girl in the ticket booth how much longer the movie would be showing. She said at least until Thursday. She also indicated that turnout has been good so it could be here for a couple of months. If you want to encourage uplifting family films, see Therese now.

Note to parents: Although I would recommend the movie for the whole family, it may not be suitable for some younger children. It has some quite intense scenes, for example, Therese's mother in a casket, Panzini's head being lowered into a guillotine, the devil attacking Therese and the saint on her deathbed. These scenes might require some preparation beforehand, as well as discussion afterwards.

--Fr Phil Bloom, October 1, 2004


CNS review of Therese

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