We’re all about supporting films that feature female stories and lead characters, which is why we fell in love with French film ‘Marie’s Story’, directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris. The film stars Ariana Rivoire as the difficult yet extraordinary Marie Heurtin, and Isabelle Carre as the Catholic Nun Sister Margeurite who saw the beauty and depth in a girl who society shunned.
At the turn of the 19th century, a humble artisan and his wife have a daughter, Marie, who is born deaf and blind and unable to communicate with the world around her. Desperate to find a connection to their daughter and avoid sending her to an asylum, the Heurtins send fourteen-year-old Marie to the Larnay Institute in central France, where an order of Catholic nuns manage a school for deaf girls. There, the idealistic Sister Marguerite sees in Marie a unique potential, and despite her Mother Superior’s skepticism, vows to bring the wild young thing out of the darkness into which she was born.
It is a true story depicting a stunning visual sequence of a life transformed despite the odds. Sister Marguerite’s persistence is the most heart-warming part of this film. We were glued to the screen watching how on earth she was going to transform the life of this teen girl who everyone else had pretty much given up on.
Sister Marguerite has the unenviable task of not only assimilating Marie to life alongside other girls in the convent, but also teaching her sign language using hand motions and feeling vibrations from her own face. At first we see Marie have a very difficult time, not understand who this strange woman who keeps touching her hands is. But as the breakthroughs happen, especially when Marie learns how to distinguish between different silverware items on the table and sign “knife”, it is a cause for great joy by Sister Marguerite.
Marie went on to learn Braille, use a typewriter, sew, knit, learn history, geography, how to tell time time, and become a teacher and guide to other young women who entered the Larnay Institute, which still operates today.
Director Jean-Pierre said the film came about from his fascination with Helen Keller, and as he did research on her fond the lesser-known story of Marie Heurtin. He ended up going to the actual Larnay Institute in Poitiers, where she lived in the 19th century.
“It is difficult for me to describe how I felt when I met these children who could only communicate by touch and who were eager to feel my hands and face as soon as I arrived. I felt quite powerless trying to communicate with them,” he said.
He talks about meeting kids and parents, who, like Marie, had been told by doctors that these children would never be able to communicate properly. It was only when the parents took their children to the Larnay institute that they had hope for their children to be able to live and communicate with the rest of the world.
While the story may be unique and the methods certainly particular to the disability presented, the them of struggle and ostracization ring familiar.
“People who are considered different, and consequently marginalized, is a central theme in my films. What I find thrilling in Marie Heurtin’s story is the exceptional character of Sister Marguerite and her unshakeable conviction that she will succeed in releasing young Marie from her inner prison,” said Jean-Pierre.
Many are familiar with American author and activist Helen Keller who became the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her powerful story of learning how to communicate an break down barriers in the world (during the early 1900s no less) is immediately recognizable today as a story of triumph.
Marie Heurtin, often seen as the French Hellen Keller, arrived at Larnay in March 1895 at the age of 10. She was in an even worse state than Helen Keller: struggling and howling like a wild child, carried by her arms and feet, it was impossible to predict if she could learn anything and how, since she had neither sight, hearing nor power of speech.
The Larnay institute gained worldwide renown after the publication of Louis Arnould’s A Soul in Prison, in which he graphically described the method pursued by Sister Marguerite for the education of Marie.
It is a remarkable and powerful reminder what persistence coupled with love can do. ‘Marie’s Story’ opens in Los Angeles in May 29 with a national release to follow.
Marie’s journey is considered a miracle, and it is a story worth telling. There are many awesome films about untold women’s stories that are being adapted for film, and it is an exciting thing to see.
Watch the trailer below and be sure to check your local guides for the release of ‘Marie’s Story’. You can also find out more about the award-winning film, its director, and critically-acclaimed actors on the Film Movement website.