France, 2006, 96 minutes, Colour.
Sophie Quinton, Miou- Miou, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Clement Sibony, Richaud Vass Genevieve Casile.
Directed by Gerald Hustache- Mathieu.
Avril is the name of a 20 year old French girl, born in 1968, an orphan left at an enclosed convent where she has been brought up and is now a novice about to take her vows. She is also a painter. One of the sisters questions her about her maturity and her experience before making her vows but, in her innocent, naïve and ingenuous way, she sees everything clearly. However, the sister reveals to her that she has a twin brother and tells her where she can go to find him, slipping away during her fortnight’s solitude retreat. She does.
The convent is an old style French convent reminiscent of those 19th century communities where the superior’s will was everything and mortification predominant. We are told that the order was disbanded but that the superior has gone on her own way and kept the convent running. And, of course, Avril is the daughter that none of the sisters had.
Avril’s odyssey takes her into a world she is quite unfamiliar with but her simplicity initially lets her glide through this without any harmful effect, including getting a lift from an elaborately tattooed worker in a paint shop, discovering that her brother is gay and deciding to stay in the lighthouse where he is on holidays.
We know that Avril is going to discover the world, relationships, the less ascetical delights of good food and cooking, music, dance, teaching children art and play and learning to swim as well as to come to consciousness about her bodiliness.
It is to the credit of the screenplay that this is done in a quite credible way – except, perhaps, for the actual ending which moves into a fey atmosphere of fantasy and art. It is also to the credit of Sophie Quinton that Avril is a believable and dignified character. It is a subtle performance, completely convincing in its innocence and leading us along with Avril in her discoveries and her personal awakening.
For a Catholic audience, it may come as something of a surprise and, yet, it makes the valid point that most Vocation Directors have had to learn, as have so many religious who stayed in their congregations or who left, that one cannot live in a spiritual vacuum and that vocation is to be discerned and tested by reality rather than simply accepted.
1.A human and humane story? Religious and secular?
2.The convent, the grounds, the chapel, the atmosphere? The religious chants and the Kyrie?
3.The contrast with the road, the mountains, the coast, the beach, the lighthouse? The songs, the popular songs of the 60s, the Twist?
4.Sophie Quinton's performance as Avril, persuasive, credible? The introduction, the painting during the credits, the flowers? Her talent? Her waking, praying, putting on her veil, going to the chapel, the superior promising her final vows? Sister Bernadette asking questions and challenging her? Her burying the goods in the grounds? Going to the chapel, the task to paint the chapel, silence, the two weeks? The blend of the good, the naive, the ingenuous? Her inexperience because of growing up in the convent?
5.The superior, her waking, looking at the photo, her motherly attitude towards Avril? The ceremonies in the chapel? Avril burying her box in the grounds, her relationship with the other nuns, the procession, Avril going to the chapel?
6.Bernadette, her stern face, with the other members of the community, challenging Avril? Going to the chapel, the message about her brother, leaving the key? Digging up her own box and opening it? The information from the newspaper about the accidental death of her fiancé? Her tension, the reason for her being in the convent? Twenty-two years of reparation? Her still feeling guilty? Her relating to the superior, the older sister, the truth that everybody knew? Her decision?
7.Avril deciding to leave, going on the bike, stranded, the encounter with Pierre, riding with him, the silence, no music, stopping to pray? Visiting the Jesuit at the orphanage, his giving her the information about her brother and making the telephone call? The background comment he made on the superior, the convent, the religious congregation having been disbanded, the religious superior making her own order? Pierre's driving her to the sea? The initial encounter with David and Jim? Accepting the sexual relationship? The discussions with Pierre, changing clothes, drawing David? Her return, telling him the truth? The decision to stay, going to the lighthouse, the room made ready for her, wanting to be alone and in silence? The two hours of recreation, meals with them, enjoyment, the Grace before meals, Jim teaching her how to swim, her painting, Jim taking her to coach the children, her joy? Pierre and his making the canvas for her? Her discovery of herself, wearing the swimming costume, a sense of her own body, swimming naked in the sea? Going back to the lighthouse after drinking, the first alcohol? The night with Pierre in the room? Watching the home movies and her yearning for family after watching David with his adoptive parents? Her going back to David, the clash, sorry? Her decision to return - for what?
8.Pierre, genial, giving the lift, his working in the paint shop, playing the radio, his large tattoo, meeting with Jim and David, accepting them, the mixing of the paints and using the yolk, the linseed, the paint and the stirring, the colour? Making the canvas for Avril? The return with the group? Her making love to him?
9.David and Jim, their relationship, David and his story, adopted, the quality of the home movies, the relationship with his adoptive parents, joy, his work as an ethologist and the monkeys? His reaction to the news, his relationship with Jim? His being upset, changing, staying with Avril, getting to know her, sharing? His return, hesitation, the meeting with Bernadette, her giving him the letters?
10.Jim, his partnership with David, agreeable, sharing in the meal, cooking, teaching Avril to swim, taking her to the children for the painting? His support?
11.The return, meeting Bernadette on the road, going to the chapel, the group painting it, the body images, Avril, the three men? The sisters arriving for the ceremony? Everyone dressed in white?
12.The nuns, Bernadette, the reaction of the superior to the painting, trying to white it out, her hostility towards Bernadette, Avril standing in the way, her being stabbed?
13.In the hospital, the group waiting, David staying with his mother, reading the letters, holding her hand? The process of healing, Avril and the difficulty in breathing? Nature and its breathing - and her waking? An open end?
14.Themes of vocation, the presence of God, prayer, experience and commitment, joy, nature, friendship, delight? The grounds for making one's decision in life?