Friday, March 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Wizard of Heaven (1949)

The Wizard of Heaven (1949) directed by Marcel Blistene

Part of my Lenten movie viewing that started with Becket last week.

The Wizard of Heaven tells the story of St. John Vianney, a famous French priest from the 1800s known as the Cure of Ars. At the beginning of the film, he is traveling to Ars, a small provincial town that is weak in its Christian faith. Few are the locals who go to Mass on Sunday. As he arrives, a wedding feast is going on outdoors. Some of the locals are excited to help him but most are indifferent or mistrustful. Vianney sets about his work in a humble yet forceful way. He begins to win people back to the faith even as he is tempted by the devil (a shadow that follows him around with a voice that constantly taunts him or argues with him). Vianney has the gift of reading souls--he can see what is truly troubling a person and can get them on the right way. His faith, preaching, and example win over the town. Eventually his reputation spreads and the town of Ars draws visitors from all over Europe, mostly pilgrims seeking to confess to a great confessor. The movie gives a good sense of the saint's character. That's the good news.
The bad news about the video is the quality. The sound is muffled and the image is fuzzy. It looks like a transfer from an old VHS tape, which makes it difficult to watch. The subtitles (the movie is in French) have been updated and are clear to read. Another difficulty is the addition of introductory and concluding English voice-overs to fill in the rest of John Vianney's story, which are a bit unnecessary and make the movie feel more like a pedagogical tool than a work of art. The movie ends with the saint's death, which would be fine, but a whole speech is tacked on about his canonization and becoming the patron saint of parish priests. The information is nice to know and surely the addition is motivated by piety, but it comes across stiff and preachy. The DVD includes plenty of special features describing Vianney's life and even providing quotes from his writings and sermons.

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