The Little Way

The newly released film Therese, directed by Leonardo Defilippis, depicts the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the “Little Flower.” St. Therese has been called the greatest saint in modern times.

Defilippis is hoping to capture some of the movie magic experienced by Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Gibson's film was privately funded and marketed but did a phenomenal business at the box office, grossing well over $300 million. The DVD release a few months ago also attracted a large Christian audience.

Defilippis's film, however, was obviously done on a limited budget and can't begin to match the production quality of Gibson's Passion. That being said, there's still much to admire in Therese, specifically the beauty and simplicity of her life. The review by the USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting said the film “is not so much a textured spiritual portrait of the young French nun but a series of hagiographic tableaus which may be edifying to many Catholic viewers.”

Defilippis, who also stars as Therese's father, said actor Lindsay Younce, who portrays Therese, was a Quaker when production started on the film but she has since converted to Catholicism due to her experience.

The film opens in Normandy in the late 19th century. St. Therese is portrayed as a precocious child who exhibits deep spiritual awareness. She follows two of her older sisters into the nearby Carmelite monastery where she is challenged by the rigors of cloistered life. Therese's spirituality remains childlike by emphasizing great love over great deeds. Her insights into a path of spirituality are called the “Little Way” and have inspired millions of people the world over, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Therese saw that God was everywhere, even in the smallest details of life, and that joy can be found by undertaking each task — however menial — with charity and no expectation of reward.

“The descriptions of the saint's interior spiritual life clearly prove a challenge to translate onto screen,” the USCCB review said. “Nevertheless, the beauty and power of Therese's inspirational life and words still shine through the film's production limitations.”

The film is truly a labor of love for Defilippis. It took years to make and he financed it totally through individual donations. His wife, Patti, wrote the screenplay, based on Therese's posthumously published autobiography, The Story of a Soul. One of his daughters has a small role in the film as well.

Defilippis hopes that Catholics will help make this film a modest commercial success, which will enable his film company (Luke Films) to begin other “Catholic” projects.Therese had a limited nationwide opening on October 1 and has experienced modest success. The Web site, www.theresemovie.comcontains information about where the movie is playing nationwide.

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification for this film is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested.

(Michael F. Flach is editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald, where this article first appeared.)

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