Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 14, 2005
Movie sparks faith vs art debate
Film critics say Thérèse is for the devout: Others will want more
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
The movie Thrérèse, produced by devout Catholics, has already prompted debate among some American Catholics about the relationship between faith and art.
The movie, described on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' website as an "earnest if modest period piece which reverently dramatizes the life of St. Thrérèse of Lisieux," was to open in Canadian theatres beginning Feb. 18.
Oregon-based Luke Film's independent production about the saint affectionately called The Little Flower has defied the odds since it opened Oct. 1 in the United States, consistently grossing more than $100,000 a week. The film was financed through small donations and used a mostly non-professional cast.
The second Catholic movie produced in 2004 (after Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ), theatregoers are not likely to be deterred by tepid reviews in the mainstream news media considering the rough ride Gibson's masterpiece received.
'Low budget, one-star'
Ellen Fox of the Chicago Tribune described it as a "low-budget, one-star" hagiography.
Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times said it was "essentially an illustrated Sunday school lecture for believers," and Ken Fox of TV Guide said, "The devout will no doubt enjoy this picturesque dramatization of an inspirational story many have known since childhood; others may understandably expect something more."
Some devout Catholics are among those who were hoping for something more.
Barbara Nicolosi, a former nun who founded Act One, a program for training, apprenticing and encouraging Christians who want to make an impact on Hollywood, described her frustrations with Luke Films in a Sept. 26 entry on her blog Church of the Masses (www.churchofthemasses.blogspot.com).
She told of having been approached three years previously to critique the screenplay for the film.
She described it as "missing all the most basic points of introducing and growing characters, of structuring for some kind of suspense, of thematic development."
When the writers sent her a new draft, she saw improvement but strongly encouraged Luke Films to bring aboard a professional screenplay writer.
"We're going to go with God here. There are a lot of people praying for us," Nicolosi said she was told.
Nicolosi, who declined to be interviewed by CCN, wrote on her blog that she couldn't support the way Thrérèse was made because it went against
"everything I am doing in Hollywood to try and get Christians to make inroads as professionals.
"To the people who work at the craft. . . .watching the millions of dollars Christians waste in 'showing' Hollywood by outsider attempts at movie-making is heartbreaking," she said.
Catholic author Debra Murphy, in a review on the Godspy ezine (www.godspy.com) described Thrérèse as a pretty movie, similar to a Thomas Kinkaide painting.
"Unfortunately, the film that I have now seen, though earnest and pious and crafted with great care, perhaps even great love, was not so much a movie as a plodding, poorly-scripted catechism of dreadful 'on the nose' dialogue."
"Thrérèse's spiritual life, as she herself records in her autobiography, was a Herculean battle of the will to do small things perfectly, and to maintain her faith in the teeth of a grinding interior darkness," Murphy writes.
"Hers was a spiritual battle against ravenous emptiness," she wrote.
Interior battle missed
For Murphy, the film's prettiness was a mistake that missed portraying the huge interior battle the saint fought in her short life as a Carmelite nun who died of tuberculosis in 1897 at age 24.
"Because 'Thrérèse' was unconvincing as art, it was also unconvincing, to me at least, as religion," Murphy concluded.
The review on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' (USCCB) website challenges this view, saying that the film "gains emotional traction" in its final half hour when it portrays the saint's "dark night of the soul," saying that the film "lowers its one-dimensional veil of sentimental piety.
"Years in the making, it is evident that the project was a labour of love, which in the end - as Thrérèse would undoubtedly agree - is the most important thing," says that review.
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