By William Wolf

SUMMER IN THE FOREST  Send This Review to a Friend

A gentle and emotionally touching film, “Summer in the Forest” provides impressive evidence of the importance of L’Arche, a movement designed to help those with disabilities, including such conditions as Down syndrome, lead happier lives.

Our guide through the documentary is Jean Vanier, now in his 80s, who in 1964 created L’Arche, a center outside Paris to help those with learning disabilities. By now Vanier’s vision has developed into a federation in more than 35 countries.

We see the evidence in quietly effective scenes that demonstrate the care and results of bringing opportunity and dignity to those in need. A countryside picnic, for example, details how participants are helped and gives us insight into behavior and the lifting of spirits, as well as interaction between those needing assistance and those providing it.

There is one sequence in Bethlehem, where we see how L’Arche is a boon to Palestinians with similar disabilities. The key to what we witness in the various encounters visited is the opposite of what used to be the norm, when people with problems such as Down syndrome were locked away as unfortunates. “Summer in the Forest” shows us the potential that can be developed through loving care.

Vanier provides narration at various points, and at times he pontificates with a bit of excess. More impressive is the filming of his interactions when he visits various locations where ongoing efforts are illustrated by the filming. Randall Wright, the director, relies on subtlety in approaching the subject, and reaches our emotions more tellingly than if the film had been more flamboyant. He thereby brings us close to those being observed in an atmosphere that is one of respect and intimacy. Reviewed April 2, 2018.


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