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September 15, 2004     561 Words

St. Thérèse of Lisieux: 'Little Flower' Blooms Onto the Big Screen

CINCINNATI—In the landscape of star-studded, big-budget films, one little movie with a very big heart will vie for an audience of its own. Thérèse: The Story of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, directed by Leonardo Defilippis, is slated for limited release on October 1. The first nonprofit, fully donation-funded film will try to make its mark on American audiences and illustrate the beauty of Thérèse's life and legacy.

The story of  Thérèse the movie and Thérèse the woman (1873-1897) are featured in the October issue of St. Anthony Messenger, entitled "Thérèse: Sacred Art on the Silver Screen." Author Maria Johnson interviews actor Lindsay Younce, who portrays the title character, as well as Defilippis, about their hopes for the film. After September 22, the article will be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.

Thérèse, produced by Luke Films, is the quintessential independent film. Based on a screenplay by Defilippis's wife, Patti, the project was supported entirely by individual contributions, sometimes only a dollar or two at a time. Guided by the constant prayers of the Carmelite sisters and aided by word of mouth, the film has generated interest. But the greatest selling point of the film is its much-loved heroine—an immensely popular saint who lived a brief but extraordinary life of deep faith, sacrifice and illness. She became well known through her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, published after her death.

Actor Lindsay Younce, a recent convert to Catholicism, found the experience of playing such a beloved saint to be life-changing and saw parallels between her life and Thérèse's. "I identify with how Thérèse longed to be a saint, but felt so helpless," Younce says. "She wanted to do great things. I feel that in my own life there are so many things I want to do and so many passions I have."

Younce hopes that Thérèse will inspire and challenge its audience. "I hope this film will help Catholics light the fire within themselves," she says. "I hope that they are inspired to have faith in their own faith...and reach out in service and love to other people."

When it comes to luring people into theaters, Thérèse has its work cut out for it. But the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ proved there's an audience for this kind of material. Defilippis believes young moviegoers want more than the standard Hollywood fare of car chases and explosions. The director feels Thérèse, who died of tuberculosis at 24, is an ideal role model for young people around the world.

"This is a unique opportunity for today's youth, like those involved in the World Youth Day movement, to rise up and say, 'Yes! We have depth, we have spiritual integrity and we want to see something different! We will support this young woman who is our age,'" he says.

Not that today's youth are the only ones likely walk out of theaters changed by the film. Moviegoers of all ages should be enriched by the experience. After watching a screening of the film, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said, "It's not what you're going to learn about Thérèse, but what you're going to learn about yourself."

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