A Touching Film

A sweet and touching tale, beautifully filmed, with the characters portraying emotional depth and tenderness.

MARIE’S STORY - Biography • Drama, Non-rated, 95 min. French (English subtitles)
A Film by Jean-Pierre Améris, screened by Mountain Shadow in May, 2015

Review by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Volunteer Director

“Marie gave me so many things. She introduced me to a world I knew nothing about. A world you can touch. Where everything that is alive pulsates under your fingers.”   - Sister Marguerite’s Journal entry, April 20, 1898

Certainly every filmmaker who considers their work to be an art form strives to evoke an emotional response, and touch the viewer through the manipulation and juxtaposition of sight and sound, to convey a persuasive human story. In addition, any film that claims to be additionally “based on a true story,” is not unlike a fabled myth; in that it doesn’t have to be completely factual to tell profound truths about the human experience.

Combining those two elements, it is an intriguing task to tell such a “true” and “biographical” fable like MARIE’S STORY with sumptuous cinematography, a minimal script and a stirring musical score where the main character is blind, deaf and dumb. It leaves the only two remaining sensory experiences unavailable to such a medium as film (touch and scent) to the visceral world of filmmakers and critics alike.  As the filmmaker comments on his work:

“This project began with my fascination for the story of Helen Keller. In my research, I came across the lesser known story of Marie Heurtin, and I immediately decided to visit the Larnay Institute in Poitiers, where she lived in the 19th century. … It is difficult for me to describe how I felt when I met these children who could only communicate by touch and who were eager to feel my hands and face as soon as I arrived. I felt quite powerless trying to communicate with them. Every since my visit, I felt compelled to tell this story.  The film I had in mind was a luminous one. I wanted to film Marie’s hands touching animals, trees, faces, moving moments which turn out to be the invention of a language and the story of liberation, a rebirth.” - Jean-Pierre Améris

Consequently, if one finds oneself moved and touched in this film by such an intangible medium I would judge Jean-Pierre Améris has succeeded in providing some rich responses to the most important kinds of very human learning experiences.

How much can be shared or communicated between two human beings without a word spoken or heard? What is it like to touch another human being deeply, without being able to see he look of sweet joy in the other’s face?

It begins with the young nun wondering to herself what is it like to live in total darkness and silence? Instead of trying to bring Marie into an alien world, Sister Marguerite decides to first enter hers.  She first clambers up a tree where the fierce some young child has fled in order to both touch a timid hand and reach a frightened child.  It is true, one must first see through the eyes of another to share a common vision and dwelling place.

Further, against all pragmatic reluctance of the Mother Superior – and while afflicted with her own chronic health disabilities -- Sister Marguerite tethers herself to a passionate purpose and relentlessly pursues it. It is true, vision coupled with determination can produce seemingly miraculous results. It is also true – as is the case with Sister Marguerite -- every healer is a wounded healer. Everyone walks with a limp.

And, while it is true the world is full of overwhelming numbers of people in need, one can most often only truly reach another person one person at a time. Then, when only one is lifted up, they can go on to encourage many, many more to do the same.

MARIE’S STORY offers more than a Helen Keller story, en François. It is a simple story, beautifully told, and saved from being too sweet by the truths it masterfully conveys.  jb