Miracle in the Making

Film Synopsis

Her mother died when she was four years old; her surrogate mother abandoned her a few years later, plunging Thérèse Martin (Lindsay Younce) into a mental collapse. Then something miraculous happens. At the age of 14 she undergoes a mysterious conversion and falls deeply in love with God. Then - not old enough for the convent—she goes all the way to the Vatican, where she boldly steps forth at a papal audience to beg for permission to become a Carmelite nun. In the monastery, Thérèse, a teenage girl, gains insights that breathe fresh air into the Catholic Church and transform the world. Challenged by the austere, cloistered life, this pampered child discovers a simple way of loving God. In a lavish period production, comparable to Merchant Ivory's "A Room with a View," Thérèse tells the true story of Thérèse of Lisieux, the most popular saint of modern times. It's a story of struggle and tragedy, and the greatest of all romances -The story of an ordinary girl with an extraordinary soul.

About St. Thérèse

When Thérèse Martin was born in 1873, Europe was on the verge of great change. In science there was the Industrial Revolution, which roared through England during the 18th and 19th centuries and initiated the age of technology. In art the Impressionist movement, centered in Paris, broke with the classical and romantic styles in painting and music. The French Revolution and the Enlightenment of the 18th century challenged the traditions of religion, inciting anticlerical sentiments among prominent thinkers and state leaders, thus changing French society forever. Thérèse's little town and the Carmel of Lisieux were steeped in the issues of the day. Thérèse Martin lived during a time when the modern era was dawning and her message of the 'little way' became the foundation for the 20th century.

Production Notes

The idea for Thérèse was the brainstorm of the directing/screenwriting team of Leonardo and Patti Defilippis, whose company, Luke Films, produces feature films with positive value themes. Twenty five years ago, Leonardo Defilippis read the famous autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the book that brought worldwide attention to this French 19th century girl when it came out after her death at the age of 24. I have always been intrigued by the story of Saint Thérèse, admits Leonardo, the film's director. I had seen the French film on her life that came out 20 years ago, and although it was interesting cinematically, I didn't feel it captured the simplicity and purity of Thérèse. I was drawn to produce the first full-length English language feature on her life, because I felt I knew her as a friend. She touches me deeply and I knew that her story would resonate with film audiences today. It was Leonardo's concept to create a lavish period piece which revealed the inner spiritual life of Thérèse's soul. Putting together all the elements of full-scale period feature was an amazing challenge, he admits. Many miracles were needed to make this dream a reality.

The first miracle was the writing of a screenplay that captured the essence of this well-loved saint. Patti Defilippis had written a live theatrical play on Thérèse, and dug into the difficult task of bringing her life to the screen. The script follows Thérèse from her early childhood to her tragic death from tuberculosis at the age of 24. It covers intense emotional ground. Her story is one that I find completely relevant to my own struggles. Defilippis consulted with many Carmelite nuns, friars and other experts on the life and spirituality of Thérèse. One of her main objectives was to ensure that the real Thérèse came through in the script. I wanted to be true to her and still construct a story that would hold audiences, she explains. So I based my research in her own writings - primarily the Story of a Soul, and her Last Conversations, in which her sister recorded all of the things she said in the final months of her illness.

Leonardo and Patti Defilippis shared their screenplay with cinematographer Lourdes Ambrose and in house producer Brian Shields. This project was the answer to a lifelong dream for me, says Shields. Thérèse really spoke to my heart, and I wanted to be a part of a film that could move me so deeply. DP Lourds Ambrose, veteran of 29 feature films, also was drawn to the script. It had everything that makes a great film: interesting characters that you really get attached to, a dramatic storyline, with humor, pathos, and something about it that was personal, intimate and extremely honest. I wanted to create a look for the film that captured the romance of the period, and also the transcendent spirituality. Defilippis was thrilled to have assembled this enthusiastic team. A film of this magnitude demands more than mere technical skill, or even artistry, he explains. We needed those things, but something more: All the key players in the making of Thérèse possessed a sensitivity to the spirit working through us, and a dedication that would take us over many obstacles.

With a powerful script in place, the next miracle was finding a talented young actress to play Thérèse. A national talent search was launched, and over one hundred actresses auditioned, but director Leonardo Defilippis was not satisfied. Then, by chance, he saw a video of Lindsay Younce, a young high school girl who had auditioned for a supporting role. Intrigued by her fresh honest quality, he realized that she possessed the humility and insight required for this challenging title role. With Lindsay in the lead role, the filming could begin.

Our first location was a Victorian museum with small rooms and authentic wallpaper that no equipment could touch which posed many challenges for the lighting and camera crew, says Defilippis. This house gave the film a very genuine feel. Because of the gorgeous and authentic costumes and sets, Thérèse has the look of an Impressionist painting. The filming was done at more than 21 locations, including exteriors shot in France and Rome. Brian Shields, in house producer for Luke Films, noticed the effect that Thérèse had on the cast and crew. Many of them were really changed during course of the shoot. I think they were amazed at the untiring determination that Leonardo brought to the set. In the toughest moments, when we were working against the clock, he always stayed focused on the final goal: creating an honest, beautiful portrait of an amazing young woman who loved God. That spirit of love really touched the crew. Actress Lindsay Younce was also very impressed with the sincerity of the director. I loved working with Leonardo. Since he's an actor, he knows how to talk to actors, and to get what he needs from me.

It was in the post-production stage that all the elements of this amazing production came together. Gregory Gerlich (SPEED, ALIEN), Robert McNabb (AMERICAN PIE, MALL RATS, JAWS) and Del Spiva (SPIDERMAN, BLACK HAWK DOWN, PEARL HARBOR) lent their expertise to create an impressive soundtrack. The lush beauty of the visuals, the emotional impact of the musical score, and the powerful story combined to create an inspiring drama of great depth. A lot of people are surprised at how beautifully this project turned out, Defilippis says. The actual filming was accomplished at breakneck speed. When I look at the lavish footage, and reflect on how touching the story is, I realize that we have all been a part of the making of a miracle.