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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

LA VIE DE JEAN-MARIE -- DVD Review by Porfle



One must practically achieve a zen state in order to watch LA VIE DE JEAN-MARIE (2015), lest either madness or a deep slumber overwhelm them.  It's a documentary which is very long, and very slow, and in which very little happens, which tends to make me nod off.  If, however, you manage that zen state, you'll likely find it worthwhile. 

How much so depends greatly on how interesting you find aging, sweet-natured French priest Jean-Marie, the subject of this in-depth profile. Filmmaker Peter van Houten found him fascinating enough to spend six years filming him going about his life and then lovingly editing the footage into a 166-minute portrait.

Although Jean Marie drives an SUV, he leads a rather spartan existence.  The villages in the French Pyrenees where he tends to the spiritual needs of the people are still infused with a warm sense of community.


Haste is uncommon here.  Life goes on with the same deliberate progression of seasons as the plants in Jean Marie's garden.  He tends both with the same beatific patience and wisdom.

In one scene he ministers to two members of his flock in a solemn, private ceremony that Van Houten films with handheld black-and-white so that it resembles a scene from a Frederick Wiseman documentary.

In another sequence that looks like something out of a colorful adaptation of "Heidi", he visits a woman who's had several abortions so that they can pray for the unborn children's souls to go to Heaven.


Nature, and Jean Marie's place in it, are contemplated at length by Van Houten's dispassionately unobtrusive camera, as are the simple lives of the villagers and their rustic surroundings. 

"This was the stable of the mule," Jean-Marie says while showing us around his secluded home place and its grounds.  "Now, there's no mule in it.  But this was it."  The film rambles often, while we content ourselves with gleaning what points of interest there are in it.

At times, however, such as when Jean-Marie wistfully recounts the various loves of his life or gives us a tour of the incomplete country church that he has grown too old to finish, his words are gently compelling.  "I took on too much," he says with a rueful laugh.  "I cannot finish it anymore."


This might refer to his priestly life as well.  The story is at its most interesting, in fact, when we discover what romantic aspirations he has sacrificed, especially when we meet the woman he's currently in love with and who shares with him a platonic companionship that has the local gossips buzzing.

During it all, director Van Houten switches from black-and-white to color at his artistic whim.  Both are eye-pleasing, although his shots are often meandering to the point of inducing drowsiness. 

The film ends with a sequence showing what happens when Jean-Marie makes a crucial decision about the remainder of his life, and the consequences of this choice for both himself and his flock.  It's here that LA VIE DE JEAN-MARIE is at its most rewarding, and worth the effort of staying with it to the end.


Buy it at Amazon.com

Running Time: 166 Minutes
Genre: Documentary
Aspect Ratio: 16 x 9
Audio: 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound
Language: French/Flemish w/English subtitles
Extras: Trailer






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