A movie review of “Marie’s Story”: This beautiful, powerful French film follows the transformation of a 10-year-old girl who is blind and deaf/mute. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
She was, you might say, the French Helen Keller: 10-year-old Marie Heurtin, who was blind and deaf/mute, arrived at Larnay, a rural French convent run by the Sisters of Wisdom, in March of 1895. Marie, in the words of a nun in Jean-Pierre Améris’ fact-based drama “Marie’s Story,” was “locked in a world of darkness and silence,” communicating only with wordless, feral howls. Her parents despaired of helping her; reaching her and calming her seemed impossible.
Like Helen, though, Marie (Ariana Rivoire) had a determined teacher: Sister Marguerite (Isabelle Carré), a pale, lovely young nun who saw something in this writhing, grubby little girl, and vowed to connect with her. Much of “Marie’s Story” is the two of them, like Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker,” locked in combat: Sister Marguerite, with saintly patience, spending weeks and months trying to get Marie to understand her first word in sign language; Marie kicking and howling because it’s the only way she knows how to respond. When she repeats the sign, finally, it’s as if the sun has gone up on Sister Marguerite’s face; this gentle nun knows that a miracle has occurred.
“Marie’s Story” occasionally dips into melodrama — the beautiful Sister Marguerite has, we quickly learn, a picturesque heart problem — but it doesn’t need to; this film is beautiful in its dappled-sunshine light, and powerful in the story of transformation that it tells. And Rivoire, a deaf French student who had never acted before, makes Marie both fierce and achingly vulnerable. Toward the end, we see her outside as snow gently falls; she reaches out, touching the flakes, rejoicing in something she somehow knows is joy.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Marie’s Story,’ with Isabelle Carré, Ariana Rivoire, Brigitte Catillon. Directed by Jean-Pierre Améris, from a screenplay by Améris and Philippe Blasband. 94 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. In French with English subtitles. Sundance Cinemas (21+).