“She climbs trees when we’re not looking,” warns a priest about the feral female lead of Marie’s Story. She hangs upside down from them, too. Based on historical figure Marie Heurtin, deaf and blind from birth, Marie’s Story is a kind of French Miracle Worker done in pale-pink feminist ideology.
Director Jean-Pierre Améris (Romantics Anonymous), who says he was inspired by the Helen Keller story, used the tale of a Gallic near-contemporary of Keller’s dropped by her family into the Larnay Institute, a teaching school for the deaf run by nuns in fin de siècle France. To play Marie today, Améris found the non-actor Ariana Rivoire at the Institute for the Deaf. And Rivoire is a revelation — showing what it’s like to be in, and then break out of, a world of total darkness and silence.
Breathtaking scenes show her twirling and experiencing snowflakes for the very first time; also flying free and high in the air on a swing. Her dining-room rampage while the sisters read Bible stories is the most exciting. Yet it’s not all a one-woman show: In The Miracle Worker, Anne Bancroft made the film hers by energetically teaching signing and braille to her difficult charge.
In Marie’s Story, a most ethereal instructor, Sister Marguerite (Isabelle Carré), adds an updated surrogate mother-daughter love angle.