Ariana Rivoire and Isabell Carré.

Ariana Rivoire and Isabell Carré.

“Marie’s Story,” a film by Jean Pierre Améris, is a satisfying emotional roller coaster that will seem more than vaguely familiar. The true tale of Marie Heurtin, a child born deaf and blind in the Loire valley in 1885 whose terrorized but loving parents, unable to communicate with her in even the most rudimentary way, had nowhere to turn other than the local insane asylum. In desperation, Marie’s father, an artisan making a marginal living in the countryside, drove her to the Larnay Institute, a school for the deaf run by the Sisters of Wisdom. The nuns had great success in working with the single handicapping condition of deafness and were well respected educators. But deaf Marie, already ten and with no life skills, was also blind, conditions that left her too debilitated for them to even consider. But the vision and perseverance of one young nun, Sister Marguerite, who challenged the Mother Superior’s decree to send Marie away, gave her the chance to experiment with new ideas that would ultimately lead to success in teaching not only Marie but the several other deaf blind girls who came after her.

It is not a spoiler alert to reveal that Sister Marguerite is ultimately successful in teaching the untamable Marie. Améris is certainly interested in the slow, methodical breakthroughs in communication but ultimately this is a story about the bonding, sacrifice and belief necessary in creating miracles. The telling of this tale through Sister Marguerite’s efforts is the very embodiment of the often overused Corinthians 13 passage from the New Testament. At best a sceptic, at worst a non-believer, it is impossible even for me not to see the parallels in this story.

” And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

The Mother Superior was correct in her assessment that Marie would be too much for them to manage but grudgingly acceded to the faith and charity exhibited by the dedicated young nun.

“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”

Sister Marguerite was a true believer whose hope, faith and endurance would be sorely tested. By listening to others and relating to Marie’s most fundamental needs she found her version of perfection and ultimately both she and Marie traveled a path to humanity and mutual giving together.

Ariana Rivoire and Isabell Carré.

Ariana Rivoire and Isabell Carré.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

Without charity there would have been no success, no learning and no growth. And this path guided by charity led to love as well.

Sister Marguerite and Marie died too young, but both contributed enormously to society with their faith, hope, love and most of all charity – Marguerite with her unflagging belief that Marie could be taught and Marie who became an avid learner and was able to teach other deaf blind girls, including her own younger sister, who later arrived at the school. Each in her own way proved the Abbé de l’Epée, the 18th century pioneer in deaf education, wrong in his belief that the added handicapping condition of blindness would make language acquisition impossible.

Of course by now the parallels of this story and those of “The Miracle Worker” are more than evident. Like so many phenomena in life, similar events will often transpire far away and unknown from one another. Such was the case of Helen Keller and Marie Heurtin who were born within five years of one another, although Keller was not born deaf and blind. Each was taught by women who unlocked the mysteries of language in identical ways with identical results; they were gifted with patient teachers who would remain at their students’ sides until relatively early deaths claimed them. Marie stayed on to teach at the school unknown to the rest of the world but remaining there as an inspiration and influence to others until her death at age 36; Keller became an international life force and proponent of liberal causes until her death at 87. Both given their gifts through the charity of others repaid that charity many times over.

From a technical point of view, this is a lovely film. The cinematography is first rate in both emphasizing the wondrous bucolic setting and the isolation of the institute, a solitude that underscores the isolation felt by the deaf students from civilization as a whole and the practiced seclusion of the nuns who neither need nor want any distraction from their godly calling. Although there are moments when the story lags and the unassisted mobile dexterity of the blind Marie is too great by far, the ultimate success of this film is in the character development and bonding between the student and teacher that is communicated in all senses of the word to the audience. That this communication is so keenly felt is a tribute to Isabelle Carré as Sister Marguerite and Ariana Rivoire, a deaf actress, as Marie.

Despite the familiarity of the story, so similar to the one told in “The Miracle Worker”, I would defy you not to be moved by the achievements brought about by sheer will and a triumph of the spirit.

Opening Friday, May 29 at the Laemmle Royal, the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and the Town Center 5 in Encino.


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Written by: Neely Swanson

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