Apr 20, 2018
About two hours ago, after 33 days of preparation, my wife and I completed a consecration to Divine Mercy.
We read “33 Days to Merciful Love: A Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy” by Fr. Michael Gaitley. As part of this retreat, we read about St. Therese and her Little Way. The long and short, for those not in the know about Therese, is that she often focused on her “littleness.” She wrote about how much she lacked the ability to do great things for Christ because her life just seemed so small at times. Those around her challenged her, and built her into the saint we know and love today. But she had a simultaneous joy and frustration with her desire to love Christ with her whole soul.
The story of Jean Vanier in “Summer in the Forest” kind of reminds me of the love that Therese had. It is the story of a man who demonstrates his sainthood through the simple act of loving absolutely.
“Summer in the Forest” is a quiet documentary. It isn’t bombastic. It doesn’t really follow a traditional narrative. Rather, it is a look at L’Arche from the view of its founder, Jean Vanier, a Canadian ex-naval officer. It isn’t the story of him prepping a massive expansion. It isn’t the story of his retirement party. It is just his life involved with L’Arche, an organization focused on providing care to the mentally handicapped. As such, the movie leans heavily into an understanding that empathy is the greatest trait that a person can have in this line of work and it asks its viewers to develop a healthy dose of that empathy as well.
Without a traditional narrative, the story is simply about existence and the joys a new day can bring. Part of me absolutely loves this. “Summer in the Forest” isn’t the first documentary to take this approach to filmmaking. I think of Cinema Verite documentaries, like the works of the brothers Maysles. Those movies are absolutely fabulous, but don’t have a formal structure when it comes to storytelling. But the Maysles don’t really ask for much in terms of changing hearts. When I look at Big Edie and Little Edie in “Gray Gardens”, it is simply a look into a world that is not my own. “Summer in the Forest” presents a different life than mine, but it asks me to move my perspective and to change my heart in the process. “Summer” lets me know that there are people out there doing amazing work and receiving so much joy from it in the process.
I find so fascinating the way technology has changed how we tell our stories. As we watched, my wife kept commenting on how she wants to go visit Trosty-Breuil, because it looks completely stunning all of the time. Director Randall Wright made every shot sing with his use of drone technology and high-def cameras. This seems like it is a small thing, but one of the central themes in the film is that the marginalized of society have been hidden away in dark places until recent history. The residents of Le Val Fleuri are part of a gorgeous landscape. Those amazing high-def shots give the impression that these people are living in a paradise in France. It speaks the story. That’s the point.