Friday, June 8, 2012

Julia Haslett's 'An Encounter with Simone Weil' - Review by Bethany Swallow

Simone Weil, a French-woman born in the twentieth century remains a hidden treasure among many philosophers of her time. Her works, published after her death, contain jewels of contemplative, spiritual, pedagogical and political insights. More recently, Weil has emerged as an icon of peace, with many recognizing her immense wisdom and strength. Director Julia Haslett is one such admirer who was featured in Vancouver's Doxa Film Festival held this past May. Her documentary, “An Encounter with Simone Weil” (2010) tells Haslett’s own journey of suffering, while attempting to interact with the inspirational, yet tragic life of Simone Weil. Haslett draws her viewers to the life of Simone Weil through personal and historical narrative, and helps each to wrestle with the truths of suffering on an individual and global scope.

            Julia Haslett’s artistic and personal efforts are undeniably honorable in this film; despite this, “An Encounter with Simone Weil” leaves somewhat of a bitter taste in the viewer’s mouth. The film is more about Haslett’s experiences of suffering, longing and questioning, rather than the tremendously enigmatic life of twentieth century philosopher, educator and peace-activist Simone Weil. Haslett explores larger questions such as, “How do we respond to human suffering?” or “How do we remain engaged without ultimately destroying ourselves?” Yet, I felt somewhat dissatisfied with her limited interaction around questions such as “How do we become more whole beings?” and “How does faith inform action?” Of course, my own journey leads me to these mysteries of life, and I honor Haslett’s pursuit of her own personal understanding, despite feeling disappointed at the narrow scope of her exploration into Simone Weil. With very little recognition in the discipline of philosophy since her death, Simone Weil is boldly celebrated in this film, becoming a beacon of mystery and inspiration for not only Haslett, but also viewers alike. I respect Haslett’s attempt to treasure Simone Weil in this documentary. I join with her in her efforts to make Simone Weil known to others, hoping that Weil’s life may offer wisdom, truth and hope for our fragile world.