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Film / The Song of Bernadette

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"The spring is not for me..."

A 1943 classic about the life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous, a shepherdess and later nun who saw eighteen visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, France when she was a teenager. Adapted from Franz Werfel's novel of the same name, the film is directed by Henry King and stars Jennifer Jones in an Academy Award-winning turn as Bernadette. Also in the cast are Charles Bickford, William Eythe, Gladys Cooper, Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb, Anne Revere, and Linda Darnell.

From IMDb: "In 1858 France, Bernadette, an adolescent peasant girl, has a vision of "a beautiful lady" in the city dump. She never claims it to be anything other than this, but the townspeople all assume it to be the Virgin Mary. The pompous government officials think she is nuts, and do their best to suppress the girl and her followers, and the church wants nothing to do with the whole matter. But as Bernadette attracts wider and wider attention, the phenomenon overtakes everyone in the town, and transforms their lives."

Tropes provided by this film:

  • Amoral Attorney: Vital Dutour looks for support in old law books just to get a handle on Bernadette's case.
  • Artistic License – History: Quite a few points like inventing a romance between Bernadette and her childhood friend Antoine (he was already married in real life and they were Just Friends). There is also the merging of a number of individuals, inventing new ones, and changing around motivations. Generally, the real-life story amounts to "a devout Catholic village is skeptical of the fact it's a site of a genuine miracle before enthusiastically embracing this fact."
  • Big Sleep: Bernadette nods to the side when she dies peacefully.
  • Bookends: When we first see Bernadette, she's being chastised by Sister Vauzous for not having memorized a catechism lesson due to illness. Father Peyramale is passing out holy cards. She gets one of the Shepherds at the Nativity (extra meaningful to her, as this was her former occupation), but Sr. Vauzous makes her give it back because she is "not deserving." At the very end, just as Bernie leaves for the convent, Fr. Peyramale gives her the card saying "if you need me, just send me this". She is deeply overcome. And some years later, while observing the prosperity that's come to Lourdes with all the pilgrims, Peyramale receives a message; the holy card. He departs for Nevers at once and is with Bernadette when she dies.note 
  • Break the Haughty: Prosecutor Dutour goes through one of these as he's the most respected man in the village but goes through a Humiliation Conga as the evidence of miracles continues to pile up. He also gets throat cancer in what is implied to be divine retribution (this did not happen in real life). He ends up on his knees, praying to Saint Bernadette for forgiveness.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Bernadette's sister tells on her to the mother as early as they get home from the wood collecting.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: The movie transports the idea that cold is the reason for catching a cold.
  • Children Are Innocent: Aunt Bernarde is one of the first to believe Bernadette, saying she's a "simple, honest child who hasn't the cunning" to invent such a thing.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Of course, but entirely justified as the story takes place in France in the 1800s.
  • Delicate and Sickly: Bernadette, who has tuberculosis. Again, Truth in Television: Bernadette was always delicate thanks to her asthma, but she died of bone tuberculosis when in her thirties.
  • Determinator: The Lady, and Bernie herself. The Lady wants her chapel and processions, and Bernie's going to see that she gets them, even if she has to stand up to the formidable Fr. Dominique Peyramale. Twice.
  • Driven by Envy: Sister Vauzous is this, though she projects a lot. Effectively, she's upset despite having devoted her life to God that someone else was chosen to be the recipient of miracles. She gets better.
  • Dying Candle: Sister Vauzous blows out a candle after Bernadette dies.
  • Egocentrically Religious: Sister Vauzous thinks Bernadette is this. She's wrong.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: A zig-zagged trope version as the skepticism of many individuals to the miracles is disapproved of by the film but mostly treated sympathetically with the exception of Vital Dutour the Imperial prosecutor. Emperor Louis Napoleon gets this accusation thrown at him, though, by his own wife no less.
    Eugénie. You're an ATHEIST, Louis!!!
    Louis. (calmly) That's the most stupid thing a sovereign could be.
  • Flowers of Romance: Antoine hands Bernadette a bunch of flowers before she heads off into the nunnery.
  • Give Me a Sign: Sister Vauzous begs Bernadette for a "sign" that would prove her worthy of the visitations, only for Bernadette to reveal that she has been living with the impossibly painful condition of tuberculosis of the bone in her legs for years.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Bernadette showing her tumor to Sister Vauzous.
  • Hands-On Approach: The 1800s version of it with Antoine leading Bernadette safely across the Rope Bridge by hand.
  • Heel Realization: Sister Vauzous, along with her My God, What Have I Done?. Prosecutor Dutour has one of these as well.
  • The Hero Dies: Bernadette only gets to live 35 years before she dies of illness. Which isn't much longer than Jesus did.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Prosecutor Vital Dutour gets one as he plays a vaguely sinister (he is, after all, played by Vincent Price!) Obstructive Bureaucrat who is disdainful of religion while still maintaining it publicly. In real-life, he was a devout Catholic who didn't believe in Bernadette's visions (he believed she was hallucinating instead).
    • Police commissioner Dominique Jacomet (played by Charles Dingle) thinks Bernadette is either feeble-minded, a swindler, or both, and he gets very nasty about it. Some other dramatizations of Bernadette's story, including The Princess of Lourdes, have him as an authoritarian jerk. The real Jacomet was a generous, kindhearted man who put his own life in jeopardy to help victims of the 1854 cholera epidemic and often went out of his way to help poverty-stricken families. He was widely admired for his competence, intelligence and compassion.
  • Hollywood Nuns: This film was the initial Trope Codifier, but every detail was meticulously researched.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Vital Dutour is seen coughing right from the start. At the end it's revealed he has incurable cancer.
  • Invisible to Adults: The lady, and to everyone else too, but Bernarde's speech strongly emphasizes this idea: "She sees this lady. No one else does. Who are you to say that she is wrong and you are right?"
  • Large and in Charge: Aunt Bernarde, having listened to Louise and Francois' excuses on why they just can't let Bernadette return to the grotto, gives them a brief, sensible No Sympathy Quit Your Whining speech. She believes Bernadette, and declares that the women in the family must stand by her and and accompany her every day. Blanche Yurka was almost six feet tall, and when she stands up at this moment the camera angles up to make her look even more impressive:
    "I'll come — and when I walk with her — let anyone dare to laugh."
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Sister Vauzous, after her Oh, Crap! moment.
    • Vital Dutour has one as well at the end, where he is dying of larynx cancer and goes to the grotto, kneels in front of the spring and whispers "Pray for me, Bernadette".
  • Nuns Are Spooky: Well, Sister Vauzous certainly is.
  • Oh, Crap!: Sister Vauzous (veteran stage actress Gladys Cooper), upon realizing just how very, very wrong she was in assuming that Bernadette had never truly suffered and therefore didn't deserve the visions she received. Twice.
  • The Pollyanna: Bernadette's resolve is tested a lot but she never loses her hopeful outlook.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Godmother Bernard who believes in Bernadette from the getgo. Later Father Peyramale as well.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The chief of police is transferred to Alais.
  • Refusal of the Call: It takes Father Peyramale some convincing to get Bernadette to give up her plan to become a housemaid and instead become a servant to God.
  • Running Gag: The Saint Christopher medals.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The prince’s governess when she’s arrested with a vial of water from the grotto after the grotto is ordered closed. She tells the police who she is and that the Empress requested the vial. It gets her released with the water.
  • Silent Conversation: At the final visitation, the viewer can see Bernadette clearly saying "Au revoir"note  but no sound is heard. The lady is not in that shot, but we see her light go out and Bernadette, pocketing her rosary, gets ready for the rest of her life.
  • Taking the Veil: Bernadette is "encouraged" to do this, because the authorities think that having a real-life saint living in the real world is a generally bad idea. Bernadette herself would have liked marriage and a family, but doesn't seem too upset at joining the convent instead. (The real Bernadette, however, became a nun out of her own volition and because she hated having all the attention on her.)
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Bernadette ends up dying from her tuberculosis.
  • Turn the Other Cheek: Bernadette lives by this rule.
  • Understanding Boyfriend: Antoine Nicolau. He believes Bernadette the instant he sees her in communion with her lady. Although he admits to his mother that he feels "one ought not even to touch a being like that", he still wants to marry her. Actually averted in real life: Antoine and Bernadette really were Just Friends. And he was already married to someone else, anyway.
  • Waif Prophet: Bernadette is a sickly girl who has visions of "a beautiful lady." Bernie tells Antoine and his mother how the lady spoke about making her happy in "the next world" in the second apparition. It's clear the mother believes her but worries, "Things like that bode no good."
  • Wham Line: "It may be that there is a sign for you after all," says Bernadette immediately prior to revealing her crippling leg tumor and tuberculosis of the bone.