Films of faith are problematic things for some of us, but I am as unbiased in this cinematic realm as in any other; Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (1954) is among my favorite films. Polish-born Agnieszka Holland, a self-described lapsed Roman Catholic, is saddled here with a script (in part by the author) based on a plot-tricky novel by Richard Vetere. Her film, however, fascinates. It is rich in the grays of human existence.
Chicago, 1979. Father Frank Shore (Ed Harris, superb), a weary, doubting and self-doubting priest, is chosen as postulator to investigate a candidate for sainthood. A statue of the Virgin Mary curatively bleeds one month a year in commemoration of the devout woman’s death. Shore’s recommendation is affirmative. A year hence he presents his evidence, which is contested by a “devil’s advocate” appointed by the Vatican. Three years later, his faith restored, he and others await evidence of a “third miracle.”
Holland, whose wonderful films include Olivier, Olivier (1992) and The Secret Garden (1993), is something of a miracle worker herself. She achieves a pervasive sense of Shore’s entire life, which includes many more valleys than hills, as manifesting God’s mysterious will. Holland accomplishes this without resorting to the least amount of determinism. On the contrary, Shore’s life is as much an open book for us to read as it has been for him to live. What one accepts intellectually while watching an Eric Rohmer film—that such a design exists—one actually feels while watching The Third Miracle.
Anne Heche brilliantly plays Roxanne, the daughter of Helen O’Regan (Barbara Sukowa), the candidate for sainthood; Roxanne feels that her mother abandoned her for the Church. In the closing coda, although the characters themselves are blind to it, we witness the third miracle.
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