Monday, August 15, 2011

Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette

Jennifer Jones received her first Best Actress nomination and only Oscar for playing Bernadette Soubirous also known as St. Bernadette. Jennifer Jones' Oscar win is one of those star-making wins when a relatively unknown actress wins an Oscar out of the blue and becomes a huge star and receives many more nominations and becomes a star. I mean there was NO way that Jennifer was losing the Oscar. She was in the Best Picture front-runner, won the first Golden Globe, she had David O. Selznick on her side (and with this the most of Hollywood). I guess Jennifer's good friend Ingrid Bergman might have come close to her (combined with her Casablanca performance, she gained many votes, I think).

The Song of Bernadette is a wonderful movie. I mean it two and a half hours long and it doesn't feel that long. There are no useless, boring moments in it and the story flows brilliantly. Personally, I'm quite shocked that this one lost the Best Picture award. Not that it's better than Casablanca but it's definitely bigger and more epic (Why did they pick Casablanca? A mystery. It's brilliant, though.). I guess... no, I don't have an idea. This movie received many other nominations and three very deserved technical awards. I liked all of the supporting players, Gladys Cooper was a standout but I'm not sure if I would vote for her.

You know, winning an Oscar depends on so many things but there's no easier and more powerful way to get the coveted award than surprising the voters. When there's a brilliant actress like Jane Fonda or Maggie Smith, you just except them to be brilliant and you're not satisfied with anything less. However, when an unknown or underrated actress comes along, you just say "WOW! I never imagined she could be that great!". That worked for Mo'Nique, Marion Cotillard, Natalie Portman, just to mention names from the recent past. Well, I think that was also the case with Jennifer Jones. There was this unknown young girl who gave a really unforgettable, huge performance.

The role of Bernadette screams Oscar: scenes of religious experiences, real life person, horrible death at a young age and these are all shown in an epic movie. And while Jennifer Jones' performance is indeed epic, there's nothing loud or exaggerated about it. In fact, it's one of the most subtle performances ever to win the Best Actress Oscar. And thank God for that since this means that Jennifer Jones plays Bernadette the way she should be. You know, I'm kind of relieved that she was chosen to play Bernadette, not a huge star like, say, Loretta Young (OK, I know, why did she come to my mind?). Jennifer is free from all the vanity and modesty radiates through the screen.

When I was thinking about this work, one word came to my mind: humility. Jennifer plays Bernadette with such respect and love. She's not a fascinating personality. She's not great-looking, she's not smart, she's silent and a bit shy. Jones plays these aspects of the character so well and there's something so pure in her work. I can only compare her to one quite similar and yet different performance that I love dearly: that's Audrey Hepburn's in The Nun's Story. Not only are they both testaments to the talents of the actresses, but they also shine so much that it's impossible not to be taken away by them. Just like with Audrey, whenever I looked at Jennifer, I just felt great. It really wasn't anything physical, it was more of something spiritual and that rarely happens. There's so much grace and dignity in this movie and that's 100% thanks to Jennifer Jones. I really can't imagine anyone else.

The scenes with the visions are unforgettable, if I may say so. I was so touched by Bernadette's faith and hope. Wheter you be a believer or not, you can find inspiration in Bernadette's story and Jennifer's performance. It's true what Henry King said in his autobiography. Jennifer doesn't look, she can see. I mean, I was totally blown away by her ability to grab my attention with her unspectacular(-looking) performance. At the trials, there are no big monologues or breakdowns and yet she's able to make a great impression. It's kind of strange but I think people really should see this movie.

The scenes towards the ending are truly heart-breaking and Jennifer plays them with wonderful naturality and ease. I mean there was nothing sentimental about her and yet I felt very emotional about her. Although Bernadette has a long and horrible death in the end, those scenes are not different from the others. Jennifer is just as subtle as she was and she doesn't try desperately to move the audience.

I really did not expect to be impressed by Jennifer THIS much but I was, after all. Jennifer Jones is nothing short of amazing as St. Bernadette. Her grace and dignity shines through the screen and grabs your attention and never lets you go. It's a wonderful, unforgettable performance that's not as frequently talked about as it should be. A real miracle, if I may say so.

What do you think?


Fritz said...


Alex in Movieland said...

you might be too generous, but I say that quite often. :) she's good because she's as sweet as the role requires, but I remember it to be kind of one-note, not much to do. maybe a 3 or 4 from me.

I like the film more, it's a beautifully well-told, intriguing story.

dinasztie said...

How can you give a 3 to a performance you like? :) I mean 3 is so mediocre. It's in the middle of the grades.

I grade:
3.5-not bad

But yeah, I get carried away. :)

Alex in Movieland said...

if you give everybody 4 & 5, then you won't be able to differentiate the fabuous ones. That's how I see it.

To me,
5 - fabulous.
4 - very good or great
3 - good, but not great
2 - it has its problems
1 - unwatchable.

For example:
You gave 5/5 to Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata, a performance we both feel is one of the best of all times. And NOW you've given 5/5 to Jennifer Jones in Song of Bernadette... You're putting them on EXACTLY the same level. And I'm curious if 3 months from now you're still gonna feel like Jones matched one of the best of all times. :)

dinasztie said...

Well, it's a tough question but I grade the way I'm graded at school. If I write a 95% test I get a 5, if I score ten extra points, I'll also get a 5. Jennifer is a 95% 5, Ingrid is a 300%. :)

Fritz said...

Just my two cents: Jennifer Jones in Bernadette > Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata. :-)

dinasztie said...

Fritz: No waaaaaaaaaaay... :D

Anonymous said...

She was perfect, I completely agree, and I think it's amazing that you compare her work with Hepburn in The Nun's Story because they're both brilliant, outstanding performances that are truly some of the best ever put on film. 5 Meryls for me as well!

Bernard said...

Jennifer jones's portrayal of Bernadette' was a once in a lifetime performance. She was able to mix intellectual limitations, true humility yet steadfast faith, joy in her beliefs amidst rampant skepticism and to hold you on course for the entire film. No matter how many times you view Bernadette's story, you always are amazed at Jennifer's commanding presence.