Teresa de Jesus (1984)

Since we celebrated the feast of St. Teresa of Avila this week, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at a Catholic classic, the 1984 Spanish miniseries Teresa de Jesus, starring Concha Velasco as Teresa.

It is hard to summarize the plot of the series, since each of the eight episodes is a self-contained story. It is sufficient to note that the major points of Teresa's life are covered in detail: her early tepidity, conversion experience, friendship with St. John of the Cross, attempts at reforming the Carmelites, and her lingering sickness and death in the odor of sanctity. Although I should mention that the series does not so much give you the full history of St. Teresa as much as provide very intimate snap-shots of her life at various stages. But this is one of the beautiful strengths of this film. Too often, films about saints focus too much on the external work of the saint and offer an insufficient depictions of the saint's interior life. That is understandable; to depict the inner struggles of a saint is challenging. But Teresa de Jesus not only depicts Teresa's inner life, but it does so with exceptional mastery. Perhaps more than any other saint-film, Teresa de Jesus gets to the heart of the struggles of the saint to pursue and obtain God, depicting the movements of her soul and the working of divine grace with an skill unparalleled in Catholic film. It is the polar opposite of the pitiful 2004 production Therese by Leonardo de Filippis.

Of course, you have to be able to get past the poor quality of the film; a made for TV mini-series from the 80's in Spain isn't exactly of the highest quality. But hopefully if you are a serious Catholic who understands how rare such masterful portrayals of the saints are, you can easily get past this.  This was one of the only saint-bio films I have ever watched, perhaps with the exception of Teresa de los Andes, which made me feel like I was really seeing St. Teresa. Part of this undoubtedly due to this being a Spanish film, for even in the secular age, the spirit of Catholicism flows much stronger in Spanish blood, and I think the Spaniards have a more intuitive understanding of the real nature of the Carmelite apostolate, which is so intimately bound up with Spanish culture and history. A film of this sort would not have been possible with an American director.

If you have never seen this excellent series, I highly recommend it. It can be kind of tricky to get a hold of; I got a copy of it from a friend who specializes in collecting rare and old videos. But it is well worth it. At a total run time of over 5 hours, it is a bit of a commitment, and you had better not have a problem with reading yellow subtitles - but you will not be disappointed.

Three tiaras.