La Neuvaine (The Novena) Bernard Emond

Though modern, secular society has shattered the stranglehold that the Catholic Church held over Quebec for centuries, Christianity still lingers in French Canada and often seeps into its films. Bernard Émond's The Novena examines two very different lives that intersect in the town of St. Anne-de-Beaupré, home of a famous Catholic shrine. Jeanne (Élise Guilbault) is a doctor who is traumatised after an abusive husband murders a woman and her child whom Jeanne had placed in a women's shelter. Shattered, Jeanne stops practicing medicine and flees Montreal until she arrives at the St. Anne-de- Beaupré sanctuary. Jeanne is about to leap from the village pier into the river when a young man named François (Patrick Drolet) happens by to pray for his dying grandmother. Francois is a simple lad who sweeps the floor at a grocery store but solidly clings to his faith. He convinces Jeanne to return to his home and treat his grandma, but there is nothing the doctor can do. Grandmother's peaceful death, however, brings closure to Jeanne's own suffering. The Novena is a thoughtful, meditative film that explores themes rather than tells a story. Immortality, faith, destiny, guilt and of course, death are considered from a Catholic perspective, though without being preachy. Says grandmother to François, "A person's death doesn't matter. It's just a transition." Later, the doctor ponders if humans are free or enslaved by destiny. The Novena doesn't offer clear-cut answers, though it clearly errs on the side of the Church. Structurally, the leaps back and forth in time are overdone and confuse rather than illustrate the narrative. The pacing is deliberately slow, which might have worked had the ponderous tone of the film been punctured by some comic relief. Everything is so serious, like a drowsy church sermon. (Seville)