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Friday, October 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Erik Lundegaard
"Thérèse," the story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux" (1873-1897), is an amateurish religious film for the converted. It's the first movie from Luke Films, which is based in Beaverton, Ore., and which was founded by Leonardo Defillipis, who also directs and stars as Thérèse's father, Louis Martin.
The film begins in Edenic circumstances. It's 1877, and the Martin family is happy and whole on their estate in Normandy, France. The youngest, Thérèse, swings, skips over to her father, receives a flower and feels the sun on her face. Then she introduces a snake into this Eden. "Oh, mama, how I wish you would die," she says. Everyone is shocked, but she quickly explains: "I want you to go to heaven, and you said we have to die to get there."
Next scene: her mother's funeral. Does Thérèse feel guilt? We don't know. Is she happy for her mother? Not really. We find out, through narration, that without her mother the world seems sad, and she clings to her older sister, Pauline (Linda Hayden).
In her teens, Thérèse (Lindsay Younce) can't abide the catty comments of lesser students at school and so is home-schooled by Pauline. They memorize Mark 10:13-15 ("Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it"), and they have conversations like the following: "You are the most wonderful sister in the world." "No, you are."
Then Pauline leaves for Carmelite convent, which Thérèse foresees; soon afterward, Thérèse undergoes her famous Christmas conversion, in which she resolves to forget herself and please others. She, too, enters Carmelite convent at an early age (15) and dies at an early age (24), and in between writes her autobiography, "Story of a Soul," and discovers her "little way" of entering heaven. She was canonized in 1925.
St. Thérèse may be a popular modern saint, but "Thérèse" is decidedly dull and sugar-coated. It deals with profound questions of death and separation but with the slow, satisfied air of those who have all the answers. It dramatizes little and leaves huge holes in the story. The converted may be pleased, in other words, but the film will convert no one.
Erik Lundegaard: firstname.lastname@example.org
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