print the article

Related articles
  1. “Movie Moments of Grace” Explained at Catholic Media Conference
  2. The 100 greatest films of the 21st Century
  3. Maren Ade’s "Toni Erdmann" Wins FIPRESCI Grand Prix 2016
  4. Indian nun writes script for Malayalam cinema
  5. St Peter’s and the Papal Basilicas of Rome 3D: An amazing film production
  6. 80th anniversary of Vigilanti Cura and OCIC
  7. "Ignacio de Loyola" advanced screening in the Vatican
  8. Catholics and cinema in Italy: An international perspective
  9. Documentary Filmmaking Practices in Africa : an International Conference
  10. Mombasa Archbishop applauds the role of film-makers in educating society.
  11. The 12th Asian Women’s Film Festival
  12. New production company to tackle Hollywood gender gap
  13. Spotlight is not an anti-catholic film
  14. The Oscars 2016: addressing important issues
  15. New documentary on life of Sr Dorothy Stang
  16. Marathi Jesus of Nazareth Online
  17. Leela Santhosh, a tribal woman film director
  18. Frames of poverty and social class inequality in children’s movies
  19. In 2015 more spectators in Europe’s cinemas
  20. Call for papers for the conference "Catholics and cinema in Italy between the 40s and the 70s "
  21. ‘Pope won’t ‘play himself’ in upcoming film
  22. Ave Maria - Palestinian short film nominated for Oscar
  23. SIGNIS Sri Lanka film appreciation seminar
  24. Documentary film: ’All You Need Is Love’
  25. Video takes Laudato Si’ to the people
  26. Film on displaced tribal people named ’Best Film’
  27. SIGNIS statement - Spotlight
  28. SIGNIS Statement on The Letters
  29. The LAFF launches a new african film student competition
  30. Rome’s homeless form audience for Vatican premiere of film about Pope Francis
  31. Indian film and its role in promoting a culture of peace
  32. American Bishop on Spotlight: praise for the media
  33. Latest James Bond film confronted with the Indian censor
  34. Interview with David Oelhoffen, director of Far From Men
  35. “Joy and hope, grief and anxiety”: a short film project of the German Bishops’ Conference.
  36. World Toilet Day: the importance of promoting sanitation via films
  37. “Fr. Gaetano Nicosia. The Angel of the Lepers”. A documentary movie
  38. ’India’s Daughter’ brings gender inequality, violence against women into sharp focus
  39. 24 writers and filmmakers return national awards
  40. Young CAFOD supporters show their climate change films to MPs
  41. Georges Khabbaz’ new film ‘Waynon’ to represent Lebanon at the Oscars
  42. Stations of the Cross chosen for the Italian Critics’ Award
  43. Are horror films C(c)atholic?
  44. Muhammad: The Messenger of God on Iranian cinema screens
  45. Insight Student Filmmaker Award 2015
  46. The south-Korean cinema - Office by Hong Won-Chan
  47. Participate in the Showing Film Award’s V Edition
  48. "Healing" Named ‘Australian Film of the Year’ by the Catholic Film Office
  49. "The Vatican Museums 3D": Experience the Greatest Art Collection in History
  50. "The Railway Man" Named ‘Film of the Year’ by the Australian Catholic Film Office
  51. The Iñigo Film Festival Awards Short Films at WYD Rio 2013
  52. SIGNIS Co-Sponsor of International Conference on Jesus Films in Poland
  53. SIGNIS Workshop Trains a New Generation of Jurors in Lyon
  54. Ken Loach Receives the Robert Bresson Award 2012
  55. SIGNIS Workshop for a New Generation of Jurors in Lyon
  56. Cinema, Religion and Politics in the Air
  57. New Egyptian Cinema: the Presence of Religion
  58. Exchanging One Habit for Another: "A Nun’s New Habit" Screened at Cahayasuara
  59. Angelus Winner Nominated For Academy Award
  60. A New Generation of Filipino Filmmakers: Mark Meily Awarded at the Brussels Independent Film Festival
  61. Faith Shorts
  62. "Samson & Delilah" Named Australian Film of the Year by the Catholic Film Office for 2009
  63. Priests Honoured at 56th Indian National Film Awards
  64. SIGNIS Award Winning Film Chosen as Best Film in Asian Pacific Film Festival 2009
  65. "Yarwng", a Salesian Priest’s Award Winning Film
  66. The Face of the Other (Den Andres Ansikt) in Oslo
  67. Angelus Announces 2009 Festival Winners
  68. Religion and Film in Armenia (1911-2009): From the Arrival of Cinema to the Establishment of the Ecumenical Jury
  69. Images of the Afterlife in Theology and Film
  70. "Slumdog Millionnaire" - A Brief Note
  71. H2Onews: Vatican Applause for “Slumdog Millionaire” Oscar
  72. "The Black Balloon" Named Australian Film of the Year by the Catholic Film Office for 2008
  73. Film Workshop "Cinema: Going Beyond the Barriers" in Prague
  74. First SIGNIS East Asia Film Seminar 2008: "Depiction of Core Family Values in East Asian Movies"
  75. Classic Film about the Life and Work of St Vincent de Paul Re-released
  76. Meeting Daniel Burman
  77. The Bresson Prize for Daniel Burman
  78. The Life of St.Thomas on Celluloid soon in India
  79. Egoyan’s "Adoration" Wins Ecumenical Prize in Cannes 2008
  80. SIGNIS Film Seminar to Give a “Face for the Faceless”
  81. Australian Catholic Film Office Names "The Jammed" Best Film of 2007
  82. Ken Loach to Speak at Homeless Movie Club in London
  83. ’Evening of Angelus’ returns to Sundance Film Festival
  84. Church and Film: 90 Years of History in Brazil
  85. Peacemaking in the World of Film
  86. "Ten Canoes" Named Australian Film of the Year by the Catholic Film Office for 2006
  87. Interreligious Screening of "Bamako" in the UK
  88. Alter-Ciné Foundation Documentary Film Grants 2007
  89. U.S. Bishops Choose Top 10 Films for 2006
  90. "Grbavica" Wins John Templeton Award 2006
  91. Vatican to Host World Premiere of "The Nativity Story"
  92. SIGNIS-Romania’s “Facing Children”: a Film Festival for Child Rights
  93. Angelus Student Film Festival selects 26 finalists
  94. Indian Catholic church makes Bollywood film on AIDS
  95. ’Evening of Angelus’ draws 400 people in Sundance
  96. Look Both Ways named Australian Film of the Year by Australian Catholic Film Office
  97. US Bishops’ Film Office Chooses Top 10 Films of 2005
  98. ’L’enfant’ Wins 2005 Templeton European Film of the Year Award

SIGNIS Statement on The Letters

Melbourne, Brussels. December 10th, 2015 (Peter Malone/SIGNIS). The Letters in the title of this film of those written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta to her spiritual director, the Jesuit Father Celeste van Ekem, over a period of almost 50 years. Mother Teresa died in 1997.

This does not necessarily sound an attractive title for audiences to go to a feature film. It sounds more like a documentary. However, the letters are always in the background of Mother Teresa’s story, sometimes coming to the forefront, so that the action of the film concentrates on her life and her work.

It is significant that The letters concern Mother Teresa’s dark nights of soul and senses, not only difficulties of belief in God but a dread sense of being abandoned by God. This does is addressed right at the beginning of the film where the promoter of Mother Teresa’s cause goes to visit Father Celeste van Ekem in retirement in England to receive and read the letters and evaluate them in the light of Mother Teresa being declared Blessed. There also scenes from the Vatican where meetings are held to discuss the miracles attributed to Mother Teresa – with a glimpse of this miracle at the beginning of the film – and their place in the approval of her beatification. (There are also a number of Vatican scenes from the 1940s, petitions for Mother Teresa to leave Loretto, to establish her congregation – exceedingly formal and stiff, not in the vein of Pope Francis!)

The Letters will be a film of great Catholic interest, Mother Teresa being well-known to so many Christians, Catholics and others like. Because she was such a public figure over such a long time, there will be an audience right around the world for this film. Since the release and the financial success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004, commentators have noted that there is a greater appetite for specifically and explicitly religious films. Again, because of Mother Teresa being a public figure, most admiring her, some critics writing against her, the film offers an opportunity to look at Mother Teresa’s life, her work, her motivations, her achievement and assess them in the context of her committed faith life and her ministry and service.

The film was written and directed by American William Riead, radio journalist, television cameraman, director of “The Making of…) Documentaries in the 1980s and 90s. In terms of some reputable acting power, the promoter for the cause is played by Rutger Hauer and the spiritual director himself by the venerable actor, Max von Sydow. Max von Sydow brings considerable gravitas to his presence and performance.

There have been two television films on Mother Teresa: Mother Teresa: in the Name of God’s Poor, 1997, with Geraldine Chaplin and, in 2003, Mother Teresa with Olivia Hussey. This time the casting is British actress, distinguished for her stage and screen work, Juliet Stevenson.

One of the great advantages of this film is that so much of it was filmed on location in India and with an Indian cast.

While the letters on Mother Teresa’s religious experience pervade the film, it actually tells the story of her work from 1946 to 1952, her discerning whether to leave her community life and her teaching at school in Calcutta and to work amongst the poor. They were long delays in receiving a reply from the Vatican, her moving out of the convent, initial resistance to her presence in work by many of the Indians fearing that she was proselytising amongst the Hindus, her early companions, the support of the Archbishop of Calcutta, the advice of her spiritual director, the final approval – and glimpses of her shrewdness in dealing with authorities, persuading them to give her material and financial support, and the interest of the media in her story.

With Juliet Stevenson’s performance, a broken English accent, the slight stoop that Mother Teresa had, the film offers an opportunity for the audience to reflect on the whole process that led to the establishment of the work of the Missionaries of Charity. The screenplay, which does show the young Loretto sister making her vows in Dublin in the early 1930s as well as her classes in the College, gives audiences enough time for the audience to ponder her motivation, the poverty in the streets at the time of India’s Independence, the practical difficulties of her work, the hostilities, even demonstrations against her when she is given a disused Hindu temple as a hostel for men and women dying in the streets.

The audience also realises that Mother Teresa was not an immediate, overnight success in her new work. She had to move carefully and prudently, adopted local clothing (not a habit, although it has become one) so that she could identify as ordinary amongst people. The permissions were given gradually, not always with the support of the Loretta superiors, and there were discussions, with Mother Teresa and her certainty of her mind and intent, about the establishment of her religious congregation, its rules and canonical status.

Because some American media took some interest in her story in the late 1940s, audiences also realise that she became a media topic almost immediately which continued for the next 40 years or so, leading to greater acknowledgement around the world, including being awarded the Nobel Piece Prize in 1979 – a sequence, with her speech, with which the film ends. No need to show the details of her life and work in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, most of the 1990s, because it was a continuation of the initial work, service and spirituality. Not everybody agreed with Mother Teresa’s methods, many considering them to limited – but no one can take it away from her that she was actually there in the streets, assisting.

While the screenplay is certainly geared towards a faith audience, it is also written in such a way that people of non-faith who admired Mother Teresa can be interested in and involved in her story.


The letters
US, 2015, 114 minutes, Colour.
Juliet Stevenson, Max von Sydow, Rutger Hauer and a large Indian cast.
Written and directed by William Riead.


print the article