Thérèse: The Story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Directed by Leonardo Defilippis. Starring Leonardo Defilippis, Melissa Sumpter, Kaycherie Rappaport, Lindsay Younce, Linda Hayden. (2004, PG, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 5, 2004
The story of one of Roman Catholicism's most beloved and modern saints is once more told on film. An inspirational tale aimed at believers, Thérèse is unlikely to make new converts or deepen the faith of the sympathetically inclined. The narrative of the French child who joined the Carmelites at the age of 15 and died young of tuberculosis in 1897 is fitfully told in dramatic and visual strokes lacking artistry and technique. Director Defilippis also plays one of the story’s central roles, that of Thérèse’s father – the pious Louis Martin, a young widower with five daughters. The script is written by Patti Defilippis, with an occasional voiceover assist from Saint Thérèse’s now-famous diaries. The movie will do little to explain to nonbelievers the originality of Thérèse’s simple philosophy, which she recorded in her diaries. She spoke of the "little way," an egoless approach to finding God in the smallest gestures. The spirituality of her decision to commit herself to God is rendered by the filmmakers as little different than all the other moments of her life. In fact, the film seems to make a case for Thérèse being a spoiled, willful child whose desire to join the convent is just another of her self-centered whims. It’s also possible to interpret the Defilippis’ movie in analytically Freudian terms. Particularly the first third of the movie plays like a repressed lesbian drama from the Fifties as Thérèse’s mother dies when she is 4, then her surrogate mother abandons her for the nunnery. Dad calls his baby daughter "my queen," and the sisters always spark to the touch of a hand. I’m certain that none of this is what the filmmakers intended, but we’ve got to trust what we see on the screen. And what we see is the story of a psychically doomed young girl, whose honest meditations in her diary become known only after her death. Her mortal story seems one of sadness rather than inspiration.