________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 16 . . . . March 30, 2007


On the Road With Mary.

Monique LeBlanc (Writer & Director). Monique LeBlanc & Carol Babin (Cinimage Producers). Jacques Turgeon & Kent Martin (NFB Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2005.
79 min., VHS on DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 0105 243.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Alicia Jinkerson.

***½ /4

The film opens with a car dashboard, complete with statuette of the virgin Mary. Screen shots of the road as seen from the interior of a car, alternate with print. This print is the voice of a silent narrator. She opens with, "Dear Mary, my grandmother used to pray to you every day,” and moments later the thought continues with, "I never could."

     The film begins with the introduction of Bill and Sharon Murphy who opened Mary House to provide accommodation for people in need. Residents are primarily homeless families, single mothers, and many of the inhabitants are new immigrants. Sharon Murphy states that "communities of faith have a responsibility to respond." The name, Mary House, came out of the concept that the biblical Mary and Joseph were homeless. The inn keeper turned them away, believing he had nothing to share. Sharon Murphy asks, "Why do really good people not do anything?" This first story in the film is beautiful in itself as it portrays a family with a desire to show their children that "selfishness is a choice, not a right."

     The filmmaker takes viewers to Tucson Arizona to a soup kitchen that prepares 600 lunches a day, funded entirely by private donations and staffed by volunteers. This sequence seems somewhat superfluous as the camera pans over the needy, failing to take us close to any one individual and interviewing a man who runs the operation instead. This interview is inarticulate though the speaker is obviously driven and articulate.

     I felt the print dialogue to be a bit drawn out, although poignant. The film sometimes lacks flow, jumping from one story to another. Perhaps the absence of a vocal narrative voice affects this. The stories portrayed sometimes seem incongruous and do not build into a climactic peak, though each story holds interest in itself.

     Other stories include a family that has spent a decade with their son on death row. In Detroit, Michigan, viewers visit the scene of a shooting and meet a family that lives amidst a myriad of burnt out houses. As the camera pans the abandoned houses, standing dangerously askew, overgrown and utterly demoralizing, crack and violence are to blame for the scene. Another story is shared by a priest named Father Bob who lives in a polarized border community where vigilantes hunt down unarmed migrants. The situation brings him to tears as he explains that we have a fear of the other. He states that the Patriot Act forgets the human element and how we all need to look into the face of the poor.

     In Austin, Texas, viewers meet a group of homeless men sitting under an overpass panhandling. One particular irascible face is unforgettable, weathered and leather-like, with shining blue eyes, a Vietnam veteran who has been on the streets for years and years. This scene demonstrates the excellence of the cinematography characteristic of this film.

     The imagery is consistently beautiful, colors and light colliding to show beauty in even the darkest places. The soundtrack is well suited and harmonious, excepting the use of Amazing Grace near the end, which seems cliché. The film closes with further introspection on the part of the filmmaker and a shot perhaps of Monique Le Blanc from behind. The viewer can only suppose.

     This film does not overwhelm you with hardship stories. It resonates with the notion that there are so many sad stories in the world. The film simply takes you in for a closer look at humanity. This film is about how powerful fear can be. It explores the necessity of overcoming fear, and witnessing the suffering in the world. A unique cast of people share their unwillingness to shy away from such suffering.

Highly Recommended.

Alicia Jinkerson is a former elementary school teacher and currently works as a children’s librarian in North Vancouver, BC.


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