You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Passion of Augustine’

A musically oriented Quebec convent school struggles to survive the secular 1960s in Lea Pool's pleasing latest film.

Celine Bonnier, Lysandre Menard, Diane Lavallee, Valerie Robitaille, Marie Tifo, Marie-France Lambert, Andree Lachapelle, Maude Guerin, Elizabeth Tremblay-Gagnon, Yogane Lacombe, Tiffany Montambault, Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, Danielle Fichaud, Gilbert Sicotte. (French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4392438/

Veteran Canadian helmer Lea Pool’s “The Passion of Augustine” gets pleasing mileage from a potentially cliche-ridden premise by sticking to the inherent modesty of its setting: a late 1960s convent girls’ school in rural Quebec, threatened by shrinking church funds and secular education trends. The combination of nuns, teens and let’s-put-on-a-show plot mechanics might have easily resulted in a conventionally cute crowdpleaser, but to Pool and co-scenarist Marie Vien’s credit, this middleweight tale with lots of classical music provides a good dose of inspirational uplift without ever seeming to reach for it in the obvious, expected ways. Outside Canada (where it launched regionally this spring), the pic is a solid candidate for select tube and rental sales.

Mother Augustine, nee Simone (Celine Bonnier), presides over a small-town, small-scale convent whose boarding school she’s singlehandedly turned into a channel for her primary passion (vocation aside, perhaps): music. Her students have already won several prestigious piano competitions, attesting to the value of her program. But the liberalizing policies forced by 1962’s Vatican II council is upsetting the very traditional ways of this Catholic institution. Meanwhile, even more drastic progressive shifts in the secular world have made such religious education seem outdated, even objectionable to many politicians and citizens.

As a result, schools like Augustine’s are on the chopping block, their very existence at the mercy of draconian budget cuts. To make matters worse, the region’s pragmatic new Mother General (Marie Tifo) is no fan of music in general, or the defiant Mother Augustine in particular.

While tending to these worrying administrative matters, Augustine must also cope with a new enrollee: Her own niece Alice (Lysandre Menard), who’s unceremoniously dropped off in the middle of the school term for murky reasons by her mother (Maude Guerin). Arriving in hippie poncho and floppy felt hat, Alice is a worldly exotic to her fellow classmates. Less impressed is Augustine, particularly once the girl segues at the keyboard from J.S. Bach to her own jazzy improvisations. That will not do here, and a medium-boil war of wills thus commences between Mother/mother substitute and undeniable instrumental prodigy.

The supporting characters are colorfully but just glancingly drawn, with only one other student, a nervous stammerer (Elizabeth Tremblay-Gagnon) with the singing voice of an angel, getting much screen time. The sole significant subplot concerns grumpy Sister Lise (Diane Levallee) and her ill-concealed panic at various modernizations including, eventually, a radically less concealing habit. But “The Passion of Augustine” never feels simplistic, or slow, its leisurely yet purposeful progress gracefully folding in numerous performances of classical piano works — as well as gorgeous vocal excerpts for girls’ and women’s choirs, performed by ensembles from original score composer/music director Francois Dompierre’s alma mater, Conservatoire de Musique de Montreal.

While the adult thesps represent a rock-solid cross-section of practiced Quebec stage and screen talent, the younger actors include several newcomers who are genuine musical talents, including pretty, accomplished pianist Menard.

No Catholic-school-is-hell horror story, “The Passion of Augustine” takes its visual cue from the simultaneous austerity and cheerful industry of the convent, its handsome look furthered by d.p. Daniel Jobin’s frequent shots of the beautiful wintertime countryside. Other tech/design contributions are fine, naturally including the fine-tuned audio aspects.

Film Review: 'The Passion of Augustine'

Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival, Oct. 16, 2015. (Also in Seattle Film Festival.) Running time: 103 MIN. (Original title: “La Passion d’Augustine”)

Production: (Canada) A Les Films Christal presentation of a Lyla Films production. (International sales: Seville Intl., Montreal.) Produced by Lyse Lafontaine, Francois Tremblay.

Crew: Directed by Lea Pool. Screenplay, Marie Vien, Pool, from an original idea by Vien. Camera (color, HD), Daniel Jobin; editor, Michel Arcand; music, Francois Dompierre; art director, Patrice Bengle; costume designer, Michele Hamel; sound, Thierry Morlaas-Lurbe; sound designer, Claude Beagrand; re-recording mixer, Luc Boudrias; assistant director, Carole Dubuc; casting, Daniel Poisson.

With: Celine Bonnier, Lysandre Menard, Diane Lavallee, Valerie Robitaille, Marie Tifo, Marie-France Lambert, Andree Lachapelle, Maude Guerin, Elizabeth Tremblay-Gagnon, Yogane Lacombe, Tiffany Montambault, Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, Danielle Fichaud, Gilbert Sicotte. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • Perfect Strangers

    Zhao Tao, Rajkumar Hirani Join Shanghai Festival Jury

    Italian director Paolo Genovese and Chinese actress Zhao Tao are among members of the jury for the upcoming Shanghai International Film Festival. They join the previously announced jury president, 2014 Cannes Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish director behind last year’s “The Wild Pear Tree.” Genovese’s 2016 film “Perfect Strangers” made $7.7 million [...]

  • ‘An Easy Girl’ Wins Cannes Directors’

    ‘An Easy Girl’ Wins Cannes Directors’ Fortnight French-language Movie Prize

    CANNES  —  One of France’s most highly-regarded young women filmmakers, Rebecca Zlotowski, has won the Directors’ Fortnight prize for best French-language movie for “An Easy Girl,” a sensual coming of age tale set on France’s Cote d’Azur. From reviews published to date, “An Easy Girl” marks a return to form for Zlotowski after the disappointment [...]

  • The Secret Life of Pets 2

    Film Review: ‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’

    Illumination’s “The Secret Life Of Pets” films do something the “Despicable Me” studio’s other offerings have yet to accomplish: They allow younger audiences to explore their feelings about new life experiences in a silly, lighthearted way through the travails of adorable animated animals. Despite being an overly loud and caustic clone of “Toy Story,” the [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    'Men In Black: International' Heads for $40 Million Opening

    Sony’s action comedy “Men in Black: International” is heading for a $40 million launch in North America on the June 14-16 weekend, early tracking showed Thursday. New Line’s opening of its “Shaft” sequel, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher and Richard Roundtree, should wind up in the $18 million range during the same frame, [...]

  • Shailene Woodley probation Dakota Pipeline protest

    Cannes: Shailene Woodley's 'Misanthrope' Bought for China Release

    Chinese sales and distribution company Infotainment China Media has bought the China rights to “Misanthrope,” the new serial killer thriller starring Shailene Woodley. The deal was concluded with FilmNation Entertainment on the margins of the Cannes Film Festival. Woodley (“Big Little Lies”, the “Divergent” franchise”) will play a cop recruited by the FBI to hunt [...]

  • Rotten Tomatoes

    Rotten Tomatoes Revamps Movie Audience Scores to Focus on Verified Ticket Buyers

    Rotten Tomatoes is dramatically changing its Audience Score methodology for movies: The site’s standard user rating will now reflect only moviegoers who can prove they’ve bought a ticket to see it in a theater. It’s another troll-fighting move by Rotten Tomatoes, designed to curb coordinated “review bombs” aimed at pushing down the Audience Score for [...]

  • Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s

    Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s ‘Encounter With Lux Prima’ Documentary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Karen O & Danger Mouse’s “Lux Prima” is one of the year’s best albums so far — but it’s more than an album. “An Encounter with Lux Prima – The Art of Collaboration,” a short documentary chronicling the 18-month development of their multisensory art installation “An Encounter With Lux Prima” premieres today exclusively on Variety. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content