Thursday, 9 May 2019

Summer in the Forest

How do you make a documentary about Jean Vanier? How do you honour the greatness of someone who made a life out of honouring weakness, the forgotten?

A few months ago, a group of us gathered at the house of friends and watched this quiet documentary. It begins quietly and slowly, inviting you into the intimate life of the core members of a L'Arche residence in Trosly-Breuil, north of Paris. You begin to feel the warmth, the contented imperfection. Though you catch glimpses of Vanier doing the ordinary magic that made this all possible - caring for the minutiae of life for his friends with a patience and persistence that makes the insignificant matter - you soon learn the film is about Jean Vanier by not being about Jean Vanier. It honours him in the only way that makes sense, by helping you to fall in love with the people that he has given his life to loving.

Part-way through I found myself feeling a distance from what I was seeing. That ordinary magic I just mentioned felt impossible. How could I slow down enough to get lost in those kinds of conversations? How could I shut off the pressure to make time count? To get things done? How would Vanier's life not be overrun with boredom?

But then the magic somehow starts to work on me. By the end of the film, it feels possible. It feels like I've almost entered the skin of Jean Vanier, and I care about each of the true stars of the film as they go about their daily lives - seeing them through his eyes. Each one's life is rich and important - beautiful.

The world mourns the loss of Jean Vanier this week. If you're looking for a way to give attention to his legacy, I recommend this simple and beautiful film.