CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 27. . . .March 19, 2010
Marie Hélène Allain: Speaking With Stone.
Rudolphe Caron (Writer & Director). Murielle Rioux-Poirier (NFB Producer). France Gallant (Productions Appalaches Producer). Jacques Turgeon (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
52 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153E 9909 072.
Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.
The opening frames of Marie Hélène Allain: Speaking with Stone feature a woman, wearing a brightly-patterned bandana, a face mask and work gloves, wielding a power drill and a stone-mason's hammer. Not what you typically expect of a 71-year-old nun, but for Soeur Marie Hélène Allain, it's all in a day's work. Art has always been a part of Marie Hélène's life. Even as a child, she perceived the beauty and grace of the animals on her father's farm in the village of Sainte Marie de Kent, NB, and, after entering the religious community of the Sisters of Notre-Dame du Sacré Coeur, she continued to develop her talent. While working as a classroom teacher, she continued studies in plastic arts, and discovered her passion as an artist –– sculpture –– at l'École des beaux-arts de Montréal.
Working in stone is her métier, and she states that stone is "a hard material. It resists me and forces me to say things with clarity." For her, sculpting is also a mode of spiritual expression, of finding focus in her spiritual practice, and her work expresses profound belief in the vitality of God's creation. Her earlier works were full of smooth curves and surprisingly sensual lines while later sculptures show movement towards work that incorporates not only stone but also other natural media, such as wood. Yet, Marie Hélène does not see the sensuality of her work as in any way contradictory to her sense of the spiritual; if all is of God's creation, there can be nothing that is profane.
In the 52 minutes of this NFB/ONF production, viewers see her, first as a young novitiate, and later, as a fully-professed nun in her community, as well as in photos of her at work in art classes she taught to elementary school age children in her early days as a teacher. A visit to a stone yard to select a chunk of stone reveals Marie Hélène's innate understanding of the nature of the material with which she works and through which she speaks. In her conversation with the quarryman, she talks of the patience necessary to work with stone, and it is clear that the two understand both each other and the qualities of the medium.
Although many people associate religious life with boundaries and strictures, Marie Hélène states that, in fact, her commitment to religious life offered her a freedom which made possible her development as an artist. Art allows her to express both individuality and community. Another nun from her order comments on Marie Hélène's ability to express these seemingly contradictory qualities, and she is deeply moved by her spiritual sister's expression of a sense of heritage, of an Acadian identity as a strong and resilient people.
Marie Hélène Allain: Speaking with Stone is a portrait of a deeply religious woman who works in the earth's most durable medium - stone. It provides insight into the creative process and the spirit which animates Soeur Allain's work. All of the dialogue is in French, but English sub-titling is provided and is less intrusive than is often the case. Marie Hélène's spirituality is integral to her identity, and, for that reason, this production will work best in collections serving senior high school students in faith-based settings, rather than in typical public school art classes. Marie Hélène Allain: Speaking with Stone might also be used in Religious Studies classes to explore the ways in which people of faith live out their commitment and find unique expression for it. A quiet and beautiful story.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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