Monday, February 12, 2007

Quasi-Review of Bernadette

by Porthos

I enjoyed watching the movie Bernadette on EWTN, but find there's not much written about it, even at the IMDB site just linked. This 1988 movie invites the inevitable comparison with The Song of Bernadette, the classic with Jennifer Jones and Vincent Price. This version is clearly not as well-produced and looks more like a BBC adaptation or made for TV production than a proper "movie" movie. (But some of my favorite movies are made for TV productions--e.g. Lonesome Dove, the Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth--so that doesn't bother me. )

As a "Lourdes" movie, this one is more accurate and is very much worth seeing, IF you've got a devotion to, or special interest in, Our Lady of Lourdes, or Bernadette. Sydney Penny looks quite a bit more like the real 14 year old Bernadette Soubirious than did Jennifer Jones--though ya gotta love Jennifer Jones in Song of Bernadette. Great as JJ's performance was, Penny is more convincing as an untaught but somewhat street-wise teenage peasant girl and shepherdess, rather than the angelic, floating-on-clouds ingenue so charmingly portrayed by Jones. This movie is better at dealing with the actual sequence of the apparitions, whilst Song of Bernadette is better at dealing with other personal threads of the story (city officials, priests, nuns, etc.). This film is also better, or at least a little more perceptive, in its treatment of the various "crowds" in the story (mobs, townpeople, police, religious)--including the crowds of crazed admirers. Song of Bernadette, however, is better at setting up camera shots of crowds and capturing crowd dynamics on film.

I would have liked to see this movie in the original French with subtitles. They did a fairly good job with the dubbing--or at least, not a horrible one, as far as I could notice.

My somewhat surprising conclusion (surprising to me, anyway) is that it is mainly Bernadette, as played by Penny (in comparison with the same role as played by Jones in the classic) that is the chief advance of this film. In addition, the director of this version made a wise choice not to show the vision itself, but only Bernadette's ecstatic, "lit" face as she's experiencing it. Song of Bernadette suffers for showing Our Lady as almost a sort of fairy godmother (or Good Witch of the East) type figure. This has always gotten at least a little in the way for me in the original, AND I found out later that it is also very inaccurate (Bernadette saw Our Lady as a girl of about her own age).

I was dissappointed that this movie did not follow Bernadette further into the cloister as did Song of Bernadette (some of the strongest scenes in Song of Bernadette take place there). BUT, in digging around IMDB I found that there is actually a sequel to this version, also with Penny playing the lead, called The Passion of Bernadette! I would love to see this!

Porthos' final word? One and a half thumbs up for Bernadette

1 comment:

Porthos said...

Song of Bernadette has notable quotes at the IMDB site, but the site for Bernadette has none (and very little else). However, I thought the most notable quotable in Bernadette was after one of the visions concludes, and she turns to the crowd, and shouts "Penance!" whereupon the crowd drops to its knees. It's the kind of scene they could not have done with Jennifer Jones in the old movie--bless her heart and everything notwithstanding.