CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 19. . . .January 21, 2011
Folle de Dieu : Madwoman of God.
Jean-Daniel Lafond (Director). Johanne Bergeron & Yves Bisaillon (Producers). Yves Bisaillon (Executive Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
73 min., 53 sec., DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 9909 201.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
Marie Guyart was born in France in 1599. She had her first religious vision at the age of seven. She was a successful business woman and mother. Following the death of her husband, she felt called by God to leave France and become a missionary to New France. She gave her 12-year-old son up, took religious orders and became Marie de l'Incarnation. She founded the first Ursuline convent in New France and opened the first hospital. Although she left her son in the care of others, she wrote constantly to him, and these letters provide a glimpse into her heart and mind as well as a chronicle of the early stages of French settlement in Canada.
Madwoman of God looks at Marie de l'Incarnation's life, not so much as a biography, but as an attempt to crawl into her skin. The film is centred on actress Marie Tifo's preparation to assume the role of Marie de l'Incarnation. First she has to understand who this woman was.
Marie's arrival to New France in 1639 was difficult. She had trouble learning the Native language. However, she knew that the language barrier was something that had to be addressed first. She did not try to teach them French, but she worked to learn their language. She admits that "Learning this language is like having rocks rolling in my head." She wrote dictionaries of Native languages in French "so those who come after can help preserve the Native tongue." She translated the Gospels into the Native language, but when she discovered that the girls especially took to music and dance, she translated the Gospel into song in their own language. While the priests of the day continued to teach the children as they would students in France, Marie told the Huron that she would never change them. For 20 years, she continued this music ministry with great success. However, when Bishop Laval came to New France, he felt that "music encouraged vanity, and singing in Mass was distracting." Her successes and trials are honestly outlined in the hundreds of letters she wrote to her son who went on to join the Benedictines.
As a historical piece, Madwoman of God could stand alone as it is rich in history and includes academic discussions of Marie de l'Incarnation's contribution to Quebec's past. However, the film shines as Marie Tico works to capture this complex woman. Tico finds all the kneeling required to play the role difficult. A mystic, Marie de l'Incarnation spent much time in prayer, and Tico wants to be as true as possible in her portrayal. Working with a choreographer, Tico painstakingly takes the time required to "become" Marie. Detail driven, Tico is coached as to how to move her fingers like Marie would have during her mystical experiences.
Because Louise Courville discusses and plays the music that Marie would have used, there is an aspect of music history in this film as well.
Madwoman of God works on so many levels that it would have applicability in a variety of classes. The most obvious would be in History, but Tico's wrestling with the role would appeal to Theatre classes and the music history could be used in Music. Marie's mysticism could be discussed in a Psychology class and, as Marie was a nun, her story would appeal to Catholic schools. The film is long and may not sustain a class at one sitting; however, there is much value here.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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