Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: A Simone Weil Documentary Film

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Mini-Review: An Encounter with Simone Weil, a film by Julia Haslett


I have just finished watching this film, which I loaded into the DVD player with great anticipation. Since Simone Weil has been an important part of my intellectual and spiritual life for over two decades, anything with her name on it is of immediate interest to me. This is a very worthwhile film. I recommend it to anybody, and especially to anybody who is unfamiliar with Simone Weil. It is a good introduction to who she was, why her work is well worth reading in depth, and why her biography is an inspiration to both socio-political activists and to persons interested in the topic of God.

The film is centered around a line of Weil’s which is printed at the top of the front insert of the box the disc is packaged in: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” This line is important to the film’s creator, Julia Haslett, in part because she is the daughter of a suicide--her father; and later, as we learn at the end of the film, the sister of another suicide--her older brother. These meta-narratives skillfully allude to the ambiguous suicide, by self-starvation, of Simone Weil herself.

Another meta-narrative is that of political activism and the possibilities of commitment to a cause. Haslett links the issues of today--particular the wars in the Middle East--with the issues of Simone Weil’s day--the two World Wars, the rise of fascism and the struggles of the workers for justice.

Finally, we have the meta-narrative of the making of the film. Of the attempt by Haslett to train an actress--a Weil look-alike--to (as much as possible) BE Simone Weil, so that Haslett can experience Weil in the flesh. This narrative doesn’t work very well, but not many minutes are spent on it.

What works very well are the interviews conducted with persons in France (and one niece who appears to be American) who actually knew Simone Weil, in locations where she lived and worked.

I would have appreciated less focus on the political and more on the spiritual. I would have preferred less meta-narrative and more of Simone Weil’s own words worked into the script of the film. But that’s me. I’ve read most, or all, of Weil’s works in published English; I own four or five biographies of her, as well as several critical studies of her writings by other intellectuals. For this reason, I’ve developed strong areas of interest that the general viewer would most likely not possess. I strongly recommend the film to anyone. I agree with the opinion of Albert Camus that Simone Weil was the only truly great soul of our time.
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