Therese Martin died of neglect and consumption in a Carmelite convent at the age of 25, leaving behind little more than a slim volume of memoirs and a reputation for piety and self-mortification. Like an obsessed artist or athlete, she had honed her life for one end—the sainthood she was granted in 1925, less than three decades after her death. In brief and limpid episodes French director Alain Cavalier bares the masochism, eroticism, and purity at the heart of Therese's self-enclosed crusade. His spare 1986 film is Ken Russell's The Devils with the sophomoric prejudice and excesses pared away; it evokes equally the atavistic appeal and repulsiveness of fanatic faith and unrelenting vision. Unfolding with the cumulative rhythms of prayer, it achieves by the end the intensity and ambivalence of a religious experience.
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