Finding Yourself Through Studying Others
Filmmaker Julia Haslett was so moved by a quote of Simone Weil's that she spent the next six years studying the French philosopher and making a film about her life and writings.
That engaging quote, "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity," is the central premise for Haslett's broader consideration of Weil's notions about the nature of compassion and the human capacity for it.
Weil, whom Albert Camus described as "the only great spirit of our time," was guided by compassion in her personal and public life.
She was born in Paris in 1909 and died, at age 34, in 1943 in Kent, England. During her short life, she gained acclaim as a philosopher and teacher, writer, mystic and social activist.
Throughout the documentary, Haslett's voice over narration presents the chronology of Weil's remarkable life, but it also discloses deeply personal details about her own life -- about her father's suicide and her brother's chronic depression -- and how understanding of her circumstances is enhanced by her ongoing study of Weil's ways.
The documentary is, as the title indicates, an encounter -- an exchange of ideas between Weil, who lives on through her writings, and Haslett, who discovers herself through Weil -- played out in the very public forum of a nonfiction film that is both a biographical documentary and autobiographical documentary at the same time.
Weil's presence in the film is fleshed out by the use of whatever snippets of archival footage that Haslett could access -- showing Weil at political demonstrations, for example -- and of vintage photographs of Simone as the little girl who at age six stopped eating sugar to show her solidarity with the soldiers who were fighting in the first world war, and had none.
Haslett takes the liberty of casting an actress, Soraya Broukhim, to read passages of Weil's work, and these are then woven into the fabric of the narrative almost though they were dialog between the filmmaker and her deceased subject. In the hands of Haslett, who also edited the film, this conceit works very well.
An Encounter With Simone Weil a is beautifully structured, richly nuanced, profoundly moving and fascinating encounter with nonfiction filmmaking.
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- Made in India
- Title: An Encounter With Simone Weil
- Director: Julia Haslett
- US Theatrical Release Date: March 23, 2012
- Running Time: 85 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Location: Paris, New York and elsewhere
- Language: English, French with English subtitles
- Production Company: Line Street Productions