Summer in the Forest

Joanna and I were lucky enough to be able go to the premier of Summer in the Forest, a beautiful, intensely moving and I am sure an important film. It explores what it is to be truly human.

It’s a film about the L’Arche Communities, founded in the 1960s by a young Canadian philosopher, Jean Vanier, to provide a home for people with a disability – often profound. We get to know Michel, Philippe, Andre, Patrick and David in their home at Troisly, near Paris. We meet Sara and others out in their community at Bethlehem. It’s a slow moving film, little action, but beautiful human scenes with some deeply painful insights into the lives of those with a disability. We enjoy Jean’s own presence in the communities, and hear his exceptional insights.

In the Q & A session following the showing, the Director, Randall Wright, explained how it was that as the individual stories of each person emerged, so the film took shape. Michel tells us the tragic circumstances of his early life, how he suffered beatings in the asylum that he and countless others had to endure. There is an incredibly tender scene as Jean tells the severely disabled Sebastian how beautiful he is. We see in action the ‘big man’ inside David, who keeps the world a safer place. Fred is overcome with emotion at the party to celebrate his engagement to Celeste. Jean is unable to stop smiling and laughing with the community in Bethlehem.

It’s not just a very ‘spiritual’ film, indeed it is one of the very best ways I’ve seen to communicate the heart of Christianity. Each person is unique, sacred and beautiful, but also, beset with fears that our cry for love will not be heard, that we will be left alone. The answer lies not in feeling we need to become better or stronger than others, rather being willing to meet in vulnerability, taking time, sitting together at table – becoming true friends.

TOM GILLUM