LA PASSION D’AUGUSTINE (The Passion of Augustine) (Canada 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Léa Pool
A small but talented music school is at risk of being closed for good due to financial difficulties. The school must win a music contest in order to survive. Into the school arrives a spirited but sometimes troublesome new girl. It does not take a genius to guess that this girl will (try to and almost, anyway) save the school from financial ruin.
If this sounds like the typical predictable commercial film plot, one must note that this is a film written and directed by Léa Pool.
Léa Pool was born in Genève, Switzerland though a majority of her films are made in Quebec. Her films are mostly serious and many deal with human emotions. She has made over 20 films her most famous works being SET ME FREE (my favourite and her best) in 1999, LOST AND DELIRIOUS (2001) and ANNE TRISTER (1986).
The setting is in a convent school in beautiful rural Quebec in the 1960s . Mother Augustine (Celine Bonnier), a Roman Catholic nun who teaches music is fighting to preserve her school against the backdrop of the social changes wrought by Vatican II and Quebec's Quiet Revolution. When her talented but rebellious niece joins the convent, and when the government threatens to shut down the school in favour of public education, her world is suddenly turned upside down. She and her fellow nuns are forced to confront the waves of modernity, and Mother Augustine herself must search her soul for a new calling. In the words of Mother Augustine: “The convent is to close down short of a miracle. We have not said our last word. We are going to fight for our convictions, our girls and music, for everything we think is right. But most of all, because I love the convent.”
Pool’s story of an important school that stands firm on the grounds Mother Augustine’s faith in music and Christianity is perhaps reflective on Pool’s making of important non-commercial films. Her films like the school face difficulty in modern times, when audiences flock to see Hollywood blockbusters. And together, they must resist and show that quality matters. Still LA PASSION D’AUGUSTINE is an important film, unconventional in its outlook and plot but still a rewarding a watch as any Hollywood blockbuster.
Despite the sombre nature of Pool’s piece, she inserts occasional bouts of refreshing humour such as the scene of two nuns laughing and skating one the ice outside the school.
A scene in the film that deserves mention is the modern performance of song with guitar at a Catholic church in attendance by the nuns and pupils. The camera pans the faces of the spectators as they express different emotions, some of approval, some of glee, some of horror at the modernization and others of disproval. It is a great scene, reminiscent and obviously re-used from the variety of children’s faces as they watch a Punch and Judy Show in Francois Truffaut’s magnificent LES QUATRES CENT COUPS (400 BLOWS).
Pool’s film is not just as beautiful as the Bach, Beethoven and Chopin pieces performed on the piano but just a moving and alas, inspiring!
THE PASSION OF AUGUSTINE garnered two Canadian Screen Awards at the 4th Canadian Screen Awards in 2016, for Best Actress (Céline Bonnier) and Best Original Score (François Dompierre). For the 18th Quebec Cinema Awards (formerly known as the Prix Jutra), the film won 6, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress, Céline Bonnier.
THE PASSION OF AUGUSTINE is released VOD Nationwide on Tuesday, August 15 on all major platforms including: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators.. In French with English sub-titles.