Thérèse (1986), and What Makes a Good Saint Movie?
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James and Thomas, with the help of filmmaker and critic Nathan Douglas, tackle Alain Cavalier’s 1986 film Thérèse, an unconventional portrait of the beloved French saint known as the Little Flower. It gives them a chance to ask the question: What makes for a great saint movie?
One of the great strengths of the film is actress Catherine Mouchet’s amazing physical resemblance to Thérèse, but also the way in which she seems to inhabit her from the inside, shining forth a visible beatitude unique in cinematic portrayals of saints. She does this without ever falling into the “plaster saint” sentimentality one might fear.
But it’s also a highly unconventional movie, seemingly set on eliminating extraneous elements that would normally be attractive in a film. in order to get to something more essential. This is manifested in the austerity of the sets, to the point where we do not actually ever see a room in the strict sense, much less an outdoor setting, and more mysteriously in the camera’s singular focus on certain physical objects.
Though the lead actress seems to get at her character from the inside, the attitude of the film itself is somewhat more inscrutable and distanced, particularly in its ambiguous portrayal of asceticism.
The discussion concludes with a killer monologue by Nathan Douglas on how one might get the most honest and complete results in making a film about a saint, as well as the observation that Eucharistic devotion is almost completely absent from the majority of even the best saint movies that have yet been made.
Thérèse is not available for streaming anywhere, and cannot be bought on disc at a reasonable price. The easiest way to see the film is to contact [email protected] and ask for help.
Nathan’s newsletter, The Vocation of Cinema https://vocationofcinema.substack.com/p/welcome-to-the-vocation-of-cinema-10b
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Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com/
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