Young saint’s life revived for the big screen

On Nov. 26, the movie “Therese” opened in Anchorage at the Dimond Center theaters. This movie is an independent film by Luke Films, a production company in Portland, Ore. It deals with the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, a wildly popular saint during the late 19th century whose teachings are studied by Muslims, Buddhists and various other non-Catholics. The film, taken from her autobiography “The Story of a Soul” is about of the life of Therese, from her mother’s death when she was 5 years old, to her entry into a Carmelite monastery at age 15, ending with her death of tuberculosis at 24.

“Therese” was directed and produced by Leonardo DeFillipis, who also played the role of Therese’s father. DeFillipis began his career as an actor, and portrayed a wide variety of dramatic roles on stage. After a reconversion to the Catholic faith, he was urged by Mother Theresa to use his artistic skills to pass on messages of faith to the world at large. It was then that DeFillipis started St. Luke Productions, of which Luke Films is a division. He has produced many video programs about various saints, but “Therese” marks his debut as a feature film director.

Playing the role of Therese is Lindsay Younce, a 22-year-old actress from Oregon who is making her film debut. Younce was spotted performing in a presentation of her senior project at George Fox University. An audience member suggested she audition for the role of Therese, and after two interviews and an audition she was cast. Younce prepared extensively for her portrayal of Therese, studying her writings and even spending time living in a Carmelite monastery.

“At first, I didn’t quite understand her,” Younce said of her character. “She was very frail, and she was really a baby. She was very unlike what we think of as ordinary.”

Younce came to identify with the character on many levels, and came to respect her very much. Therese’s extremely simple nature was what led Younce to her portrayal of the character.

One difficulty that Younce encountered was the challenge of humanizing a character that has become a religious icon. She did this by focusing on Therese’s frustration with her own failings.

“She was very hard on herself and very frustrated when she couldn’t surrender what she wanted for other people,” Younce said.

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The production was truly a labor of love for all involved. Patti DeFillipis, Leonardo’s wife, wrote the screenplay, a creation 15 years in the making. The couple worked tirelessly, revising and perfecting the script. Younce was in the process of becoming a Catholic when she first started working on the production, while other actresses arrived with little religious inclination. Nevertheless, everyone worked in the same direction, and director DeFillipis describes the finished product as a miracle. The soundtrack was scored by Sister Marie Therese Sokol, who is a Carmelite nun. After extensive training in classical composition, Sister Marie joined the Carmelite order, never guessing that she would continue working as a musician as well.

“The film is very counter-cultural, very counter-programming. It is definitely something different from mainstream Hollywood films,” DeFillipis said. “Therese” had a limited release Oct. 1 of this year. DeFillipis describes extremely positive reactions from audiences, including applause and post-viewing discussion. DeFillipis hopes the film will have a universal appeal to non-Catholics and non-religious people. He said he thinks the life of Therese contains many universal lessons.

“I encourage students to investigate this movie,” DeFillipis said. “It will be something totally different, and it will challenge young people. It offers incredible insight into something very deep. Young people today are often perceived as being shallow, and I want to show American culture that you can have spiritual integrity, that you’re not a shallow generation.”