Highly recommended and endorsed by the Vatican, the official feature film on St. Bernadette and the apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes is now available in the U.S exclusively through Ignatius Press in both DVD and VHS formats.
This two-hour film is the official dramatization of the story of St. Bernadette, and is shown daily at the world-famous Lourdes Shrine in France. Shot entirely on location under the famed French director, Jean Delannoy – one of France’s foremost filmmakers – Bernadette is based solely on recorded, factual history. Nothing in the film is embellished or over-dramatized for cinematic appeal. Delannoy wanted it to be historically accurate with no distortions or arbitrary changes – as had been done with other films on her.
Penny says that the opportunity for her to play the main character in the film, St. Bernadette, was truly a rare opportunity.
“Not only was this a marvelous chance to work with one of France’s most respected film directors, but as a person, I wanted to be part of something that intended to tell a beautiful story honestly.”
Penny was just 15 years old when she portrayed the saint. The production also stars Roland Lesaffre, Michele Simonnet, and Bernard Dheran. Penny likewise stars in the sequel to the film, The Passion of Bernadette.
A non-Catholic, Penny was nevertheless intrigued by many facets of St. Bernadette when she was offered the part in the film in 1987. She learned to speak French as well, since the film was shot in its entirety twice – once in French, again in English. Delannoy – who is nearly 100 today – did not want any dubbing done in other languages; he wanted each language version to ring true with authenticity.
“I knew nothing about Bernadette Soubirous before I received the script for the film,” says Penny, now 33, married and living in California. “As I began to learn more about her, I discovered she was like so many teenagers – awkward, challenged in her studies, and trying to bear up under the pressures of her family … and then later, the pressures the world put upon her. I was moved by her honesty and humility. I could see in learning about her life and experiences that there is a message for each of us, if only we keep ourselves open to hear it.”
Penny says she is thrilled that the film is finally being released in the U.S. “I have always been proud of this film, although no one was ever able to see it except by traveling to Lourdes.”
St. Bernadette – whose body still remains incorrupt and displayed lying-in-state in a glass coffin in The Sisters of Charity Chapel in Nevers, France – was buried and exhumed three times as part of her canonization process. During each exhuming, she looked exactly as she had been the last time … uncorrupted. The incorrupt body of Bernadette is shown at the end of the film. This was particularly moving for Ms. Penny.
“When I actually saw her there, she was so tiny and fragile. It was probably the only time an actor has ever come face to face with the historical figure he was portraying.”
Penny says that although there was great interest by the French press when the film was released originally in the late 1980s, the film world at large has taken little notice of it until now.
“The film industry has grudgingly recognized that people need stories that fuel their souls as well as those that entertain. Mel Gibson’s recent success with The Passion of the Christ has certainly changed such perceptions in the film world,” says Penny.
“The story of Bernadette seems almost incredible, living in these modern times. But many magnificent and incredible things happen everyday; we just have developed the habit of analyzing them into insignificance,” says Penny. “Bernadette’s story is a symbol of hope, an example of the power that one person’s faith can have on the world. I hope the word gets out that there is a film with a beautiful, simple story to tell that is still relevant to people today, whether one is Catholic or not.”
Order Bernadette now on DVD!