This is a rather hard review to write. How do you separate the subject matter from the film? What reviewer wants to find himself in the unenviable task of critiquing the likes of a future saint? Certainly the filmmakers must have felt the same burden to do the story justice. But did they succeed? The answer is a not so simple.
The choice of Olivia Hussey was a remarkably inspired one. She portrayed the unselfish passion and self sacrifice as if they were emanating from her very soul. From her first moments on screen it is not hard to believe, while perhaps imagined, that we are seeing just a hint of something divine. The supporting cast does a fine job but can’t help but be overshadowed by Hussey. The location cinematography is also handled nicely with a great realistic approach that creates just the right touch of reality to it all. If the film is flawed at all, it is in its length. At 2 hours, it is overlong to maintain such powerful imagery, yet the running time is far too short to do justice to such a life that has touched and inspired the world. The film doesn’t start at the beginning. We find Mother Teresa already a nun and about to begin her mission to help the poor. Nor is that story complete. Huge gaps in time lead us all too quickly to aged and dying saint apparent. You don’t need to be Catholic to appreciate the film. Few would dare to challenge the purity and good works of Mother Teresa’s life. World leaders have been brought to tears, and more importantly to action, because of her example. Many films have spared no expense in graphic f/x to try and show us a face that is truly evil. Few have attempted to bring us such a picture of goodness. This film shows us how simply it can be done. The film is worth a look on those grounds alone.
Mother Teresa is presented in what I assume to be its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I have not found a reliable source on the original print. The decision to use a single-layered disc is a suspicious one indeed. Compression artifacts often ruin what has the potential to be a very visually pleasing film. Colors are soft. Many of the images are quite bright, owing in part to the sunny climate of Calcutta. There is considerable grain, but it appears to come and go throughout the film. The brightly colored garb of the location’s women comes through quite drab considering the palette available. Black levels are OK. I have not seen the original print, but I would love to see this film in a more faithful reproduction than I assume this disc has offered.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track might as well have been a more simple 2.0 affair. This is not intended as an insult. Dialogue is simply all you really have here. No aggressive use of ambient is at all evident. The music is mostly absent, and subtle when it’s there. You can hear every word just fine. No distortion or source noise is present.
For many, her Nobel Peace Prize was the crown jewel of Mother Teresa’s many achievements. This film seems to downplay such extravagance. To the millions that she humbly served, she meant food and shelter. To the thousands of sick and dying, it was medicine and comfort. To those in despair, it was faith and hope for something more. To the rest of us, it was an almost unattainable example of the well lived life. This is a film that is likely to make even the most cynical among us believe in miracles. “It’s that simple.”