The Third Miracle Agnieszka Holland
Published Mar 01, 2000"What is a saint, anyway?" This, asked by atheistic Anne Heche to Ed Harris's priest character, is the central issue of The Third Miracle. Harris answers, it's a person with "a special connection with God," all the while aware of his own mixed beliefs and floundering connection. Polish director Agnieszka Holland's fascination with the conflict between faith and cold reality continues in her well-intentioned, but uneven, adaptation of Richard Vetere's novel. Frank Shore (Harris in an admirable, honest performance) reluctantly agrees to accept a mission to research a candidate for sainthood. In a Chicago ghetto, a Virgin Mary statue has been weeping blood. The believers connect the miracle to Helen (Barbara Sukowa), a recently deceased Austrian woman who ran a soup kitchen ? and, supposedly, had healing power. But Frank's desire to believe in Helen's sanctity is tested by his own serious doubts (traumatic events had led him into semi-retirement from the clergy) and by her daughter Roxanne (Heche), a party girl who has not forgiven Helen for abandoning her when Roxanne was sixteen. There are some beautiful, sincerely moving moments in Miracle. Holland's opening flashback sequence, depicting an incident in Helen's childhood in which her prayers are literally answered during a WWII bombing, is wonderfully filmed; Jerzy Zielinski's grainy cinematography captures a newsreel sense of the period and a chaotic feel. Later flashbacks don't have as much power, as the constant switch between photographic styles becomes obvious and artificial. The story's also weakened by the near-romance subplot between Harris and Heche, who show some chemistry but not enough to rival the film's more weighty concerns. Heche, though a good actress, is miscast. Her portrayal of the lost, cynical Roxanne is too lightweight to foil for Harris' complex, subtle characterisation. If you buy the supernatural stuff, Miracle is Bergman with a feel-good twist.