Summer In The Forest (PG)

In a Word: Uplifting

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Top - Jean Vanier; Middle - Jean Vanier with Céline and Fred in the film; Below - the summer party.

Since the 1960s, Jean Vanier - who died this week at the age of 90 - has been on a mission to change the world for the better through a growing network of communities, known as L'Arche, in which the intellectually disabled live in homes alongside people without such disabilities.

Vanier, an ex-Canadian naval officer, in 1964, with the encouragement of Catholic priest Fr Thomas Philippe, invited two men with disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institution they were living in just outside of Paris and move into a house with him in the village of Trosly-Breuil, just to the north of the French capital. From that initial home sprang a movement which now spans five continents and more than 150 communities across the globe. 

This film, Summer In The Forest, takes a look inside the community as it now is in Trosly-Breuil, providing some glimpses into the lives of those who reside within them. They include Vanier, who reminisces about his own life story and how he came to found L'Arche, as well as people like 75-year-old Michel Petit who still has nightmares about the war, 65-year-old Patrick Druault, a "deeply anguished" man whom Vanier has known for more than 45 years, 32-year-old mosaic-maker Céline Innocent and her boyfriend Fred, and 33-year-old David Surmaire, a "strong" man who has no interest in being small.

The film follows them as they go about things like their daily ablutions, get their morning coffee at a cafe, have a meal together, visit a Holocaust-related memorial in the forest and prepare for a summer party which is celebrated at the end. Through these vignettes, it reveals the essence of the L'Arche communities. As Michel Petit explains: "L'Arche is about welcoming people".


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This is not a typical documentary. Director Randall Wallace has deliberately eschewed presenting a straight-forward profile of the organisation, L'Arche, or indeed a focused piece on Vanier and his extraordinary story. Instead this is a film which is all about vision and it's the vision of L'Arche that here takes centrestage.

The film has been released in two versions - the longer version includes footage from a L'Arche community in Bethlehem as well as that where Vanier lived in France.

Summer In The Forest is certainly a feel-good film but it's also a deeply challenging one which reveals how living out the Gospel can truly, deeply, utterly, transform us. It's also a fitting testament to the life of an extraordinary man. You will walk away from this film having your eyes opened to new possibilities.

For screenings in Australia, head to www.summerintheforest.com.au.