It's funny how much a movie can influence your spiritual life.  Jennifer Jones, who died yesterday at 90, won an Academy Award for her performance as St. Bernadette Soubirous, in the 1943 film "The Song of Bernadette."  At the time of its release, Catholic schoolchildren were taken by the busload to see the film--in the middle of the schoolday, one amazed former student told me, still marveling many years later.  The power of the movie lies in the way it recreates, more or less accurately, Bernadette's story; Jones captures the real Bernadette's simplicity, candor and another important trait: the quality that Ruth Harris, author of Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age termed her "stalwart" nature.  No one other than Bernadette saw, or would ever see, anything in the Grotto of Massabieille in the small French town of Lourdes in 1858.  For her apparent lies about what she saw (originally aquero or "that thing," as Bernadette said in Lourdais, the local patois, but then revealed to her as "the Immaculate Conception") she was beaten by her parents, scorned by townspeople and rejected by her local pastor, the imperious Abbe Peyramale, who threw her out of the rectory.  But she persisted in cleaving to her own experience, to what she had seen, to what she believed  The scenes in the film between Jennifer Jones and Charles Bickford, as Peyramale, are among the most affecting in the film: with the highly educated pastor seeking to punch holes in her argument.  (Above is the scene of her initial encounter with aquero.)  Eventually the people of Lourdes believed the 14-year-old girl, and the miracles associated with the shrine began.  But the real-life Bernadette and the movie Bernadette nonetheless clung to their humility: despite entreaties she refused to accept any monies or gifts, despite her family's extreme poverty.  Those who asked her to bless rosaries were told to go to the priests for that.  Jones' singular performance captivates me every time I see it: her Bernadette is luminous, mysterious and, finally, holy.  Her artistry makes "The Song of Bernadette" one of those films that, once I see even a few moments, I must watch the whole movie.  Rest in Peace, Ms. Jones, you who had a difficult life after the making of that movie, and thank you for introducing so many to a saint. And may you be ushered into heaven by Bernadette Soubirous.  

Comments

Liam Richardson | 12/20/2009 - 12:41pm
Despite certain hackneyed touches that were required for pious films of the studio era (the need to show the apparition of Linda Darnell would have been mercifully cut in a later time, to let Jones' face tell the vision), this film is actually relatively light in such touches, and the cinemetography and performances of the main players (other than Vincent Price, who was too studied and mannered for my taste, even appreciating his gift for being mannered; Charles Dingle merely engages in his customary scene chewing) make for an experiential credible as well as luminous flim. In addition to Jennifer Jones, the performances of Anne Revere (later a victim of the blacklist) as Mme Soubirous, Blanche Yurka as the indomitable aunt, Charles Bickford as the pastor, Edith Barrett as the mother of the paralytic, and not least Gladys Cooper as the recipient of a bolt on the road to her Damascus, are indelible in the history of film. The depiction of village life, quite a bit cleaned up (except for the hospital waste and the dump near the grotto) is an all-vital foundation to the experiential credibility of the film.
And that this was the fruit of a Jewish man who was saved from the Holocaust should bear remembrance.
Jeff Bagnell | 12/18/2009 - 4:02pm
 
I can't say enough about the film or Jones' performance either.  It has an amazingly current  quality about it even though quite old and in black and white. 
My favorite scene is Lee J. Cobb's character trying to reconcile his belief in science and medicine, with the old blind man who can inexplicably now see having washed his eyes in the new spring near the Grotto.  He is befuddled after hours of examining him and looks to a priest for support that what's happened could not be a "miracle."  The priest says, "All I know is that when I came in here last night it was very dark.  It is much lighter now, good day" and leaves his office.
May perpetual iight shine upon her.
 
 
BARBARA BROWNHOLTZ | 12/18/2009 - 3:32pm
Such a touching post.  I loved the movie as a child and my pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1995 was the most memorable  of any I have taken.  I was able to visit Never and see  the beautiful remains of St. Bernadette's body..Her holiness permiates the Chapel where she lies.   Ms Jones was the perfect actress to portray this great Saint.
Anonymous | 12/18/2009 - 10:42am
Thank you for a lovely post. Do yourself a favor and listen to Song of Bernadette by Jennifer Warnes at YouTube.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aZIFavgLd38