“Marie’s Story” is a true story about a 14-year-old French girl named Marie Heurtin (Ariana Rivoire) who was both blind and deaf. The events take place in the latter part of the 19th century. Marie’s parents had not been able to care for her properly. She would not bathe, nor wear shoes, nor allow her hair to be brushed or washed. In desperation, the parents brought her to the Larnay Institute in France where the nuns cared for and taught girls who were deaf. The only problem was that they had never before taken in a girl who was both blind and deaf. The film is done in French although there are English sub-titles allowing the viewer to follow along easily.
While her parents were discussing the issue inside, Marie had been left in the care of a nun outside. She struggled to get away from the nun and climbed a tree. When the Mother Superior took in the situation, she told Sister Marguerite (Isabelle Carre) to try to get her down from the tree.
Sign Language - Wikimedia
Sister Marguerite’s Offer
The nun offered to teach Marie even though she had very little experience in this area. Also, she was in delicate health herself which prompted the Mother Superior to decline her offer. After much pleading, consent was given and Sister started off to pick up her charge at the Huertin home. She regarded it as her mission. She had prepared herself somewhat by plugging her ears, wearing a blindfold, and groping around, in an effort to understand Marie’s circumstance.
Of course, Marie fought her as she would any person with whom she was not familiar. She had only interacted previously with her own mother and father. Her father, especially, showed his deep love for her and even carried her on his back. They pointed out to the nun that Marie’s favorite toy was a small pen knife. She preferred it to dolls. Her father handcuffed her to Sister Marguerite who, of course, resisted the attempt. They were loathe to leave their daughter, but they knew that she would be in good hands. Sister Marguerite would have to win her trust before Marie would accept Sister’s efforts to teach her.
The Trip to Larnay
Handcuffed to Sister Marguerite, Marie walked with her through the pasture. When they came to a small brook, Sister washed her own feet in the brook. Marie put her hands in the brook to feel the water. When she was given her knife, she smiled and smelled it. They came to a stable and went to sleep in the stable. When Sister Marguerite awoke, she did not see Marie at first; she was embracing a cow who lived in the stable.
Sister Marguerite actually carried Marie on her back until she spotted a wheelbarrow and gave her a ride in the wheelbarrow which made Marie laugh. When they arrived at the convent, Marie kissed all of the sisters. She was then brought to the girl’s dormitory. The girls were admonished to be nice to her, but they disobeyed, and made fun of her and started hitting her. It was then decided that Marie should share a room with Sr. Marguerite. At supper, the new experience caused her to behave like a wild animal. Sister put her in a tub of water, which Marie enjoyed, and gave her the knife to play with.
A Sign Language Interpreter - Wikimedia
A Bath and a New Wardrobe
When Sister Marguerite tried to brush her hair, Marie resisted. Finally, Sister was able to cut her hair and give her a bath. Sister put a new dress on Marie and buttoned it. Marie loved it. She was even able to put stockings on her feet, and then shoes. They walked around together, practicing walking in the shoes. She even walked outside and felt the snowflakes falling on her.
In the evening, Sister Marguerite was writing in a book before bedtime. Marie got out of her bed and came to kiss Sister Marguerite and put her arms around her. It was the first breakthrough.
For the first time in her life, Marie experienced getting a ride on a swing. She would not get off the swing, even when Sister stopped pushing her. She learned how to swing herself, which was another milestone.
Learning to Sign
Sister Marguerite tried very hard to teach Marie to sign the word for knife. It was a struggle, but Marie finally did it. Sister ran to Mother Superior to ask her to come and see that Marie could make the sign for knife. Marie then asked for a sign for her fork, then for her bread. They went out to the garden and made signs for apple, carrot, grape, and leaf. Marie was becoming a fast learner.
Pen Knife - Wikimedia
After several months, Mr. and Mrs. Heurtin came in their horse and carriage to visit their daughter. She was thrilled that they came. She felt her father’s hands, then her mother’s hands. Sister Marguerite showed them that Marie had learned the alphabet and was able to put her name, Marie, together with the wooden blocks. Marie rubbed her chest which meant that she was happy. Sister Marguerite left them to have some quality time with each other.
Sister Marguerite Becomes Ill
When she went outside, Sister, in her delicate condition, fainted in the snow. Mother Superior insisted that she go away for a while to rest. Marie went looking for her and could find her nowhere, even outdoors. In the dining room, she would not eat. Sister Raphaelle wrote to Sister Marguerite to tell her about the problem. Sister Marguerite came home because she missed Marie also. When Marie saw her, she started hitting her to let her know that she did not approve of her going away.
When Sister Elizabeth, one of the elderly sisters, died, Sister Marguerite took her to the wake to experience a dead person. Marie felt Sister Elizabeth’s chest which was not rising and felt her own chest which was. Sr. Marguerite breathed on her to indicate what a living person did. She told Marie that she herself would die also. Marie indicated that she forbade Sister Marguerite to die. Sister tried to teach Marie about God, telling her he was all around her, and even inside of her.
One day, Sr. Marguerite fell off of a chair, having fainted. Marie was able to bring Sister her dinner in bed and to give her some soup and a drink of water. She wiped her mouth.
On days when she was not allowed in Sister Marguerite’s room, she sat on the floor outside of her room. When Marie did not show up for lunch, the sisters looked everywhere for her. Sister Marguerite told them to look in the trees. Sure enough, she was in a tree.
Their Last Meeting
She indicated to the sisters that she wanted to see Sister Marguerite before she died. She knew she would leave her, and had accepted it. Sister Marguerite told her the sisters would take over and would be there to help her to carry on with her learning. She had taught her the difficult lesson of the acceptance of death.
The last few scenes showed Marie going to Sister Marguerite’s gravesite with flowers. She signed to her “Sister Marguerite, I often think of you. When I learn something new, I think of you.” She also told her that a new girl arrived at the school who was deaf and blind like she was. She wanted to help her. She hoped they would be friends.
Helen Keller - Wikimedia
Marie herself died in 1921, having lived to the age of 36. She was fortunate to have been taken in by the nuns at the Larnay Institute since most girls with such disabilities had to go to mental asylums. Her story is similar to that of Helen Keller, who was taught by a woman in the United States named Annie Sullivan during that same era. Helen Keller was able to live a much longer life than Marie, and became a role model to everyone, showing that determination and hard work can help anyone to overcome adversity.
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