War of the Vendee (2012)

Last week I was signed out War of the Vendee from my parish library. I had seen promotions for the film in Ignatius Press catalogs and other Catholic publications and was quite interested in seeing it - it's about time someone made a film telling the story of Catholics during the French Revolution!

Anyhow, as I was walking out holding the DVD, a teenager, probably 14 years old or so, saw what I was holding and said, "Oh...that movie sucks." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah. It was stupid. The actors are terrible." Then another kid, probably 16, walked into the conversation, saw the DVD and said, "He's right. That movie was awful." This piqued my interest. Could such a highly publicized movie about such a relevant topic really "suck" as bad as the kids were telling me?

Produced in 2012 by Navis Pictures, War of the Vendee was directed by Jim Morlino and features original music by composer Kevin Kaska, who also did the music for Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel. War of the Vendee tells the famous story of the 1793 rising of Catholic peasants in western France against the atheist regime of the Revolutionaries. This is a moving tale of heroism and devotion that certainly deserves to be told, especially in this day and age when the social influence of Catholicism is at an unfortunate nadir. And from a traditional Catholic standpoint, who would object to a film about Catholic peasants warring against atheist liberal regimes?

Unfortunately, the admirable subject matter of this film is marred by one glaring, elephant-in-the-room, embarrassing problem: every single role in the film is played by children. That's right - kids only. There are no adults in this film. Everybody from Robespierre tot he rebel leaders to the rank and file of the Grand Army of the Republic are played by kids. This is what the kids in my parish were getting at when they lamented that it "sucked".

There are several problems with an all-child cast:

1) It's annoying.
2) It's confusing - when the child actors are playing adults who themselves are supposed to be kids, it's hard to know who is the son or daughter of whom.
3) The acting is terrible; they're child actors; what would you expect?
4) It's annoying.
5) It destroys the illusion; how are we supposed to feel threatened by the Republican Army when it consists of a bunch of eight year olds?
6) Did I mention it's annoying?

I don't know how I managed to miss this about the movie before I popped it in. But looking back, it was never really advertised. The ads in Ignatius Press catalogs never said "all child actors"; even on the back of the DVD, it never states this. It says "featuring a cast of over 250 young people", but I just thought that meant there were a lot of kids in the film, like Newsies or Goonies or Hook. I never imagined that meant there were no adults in the film - that every single role was played by a child. But that's what we get in War of the Vendee. But why would they go out of their way to promote this point? Who would see a film if they told us, "By the way, every single role from Robespierre down to the last soldier is played by little kids who can't act"?

So yes, this movie sucked because of this. I really could never enter into it because of the age-inappropriate actors and their very sketchy acting. The locations were beautiful, sets wonderful, music score great. But man...all kids? Really? Not to mention some very poorly done green screening that also destroyed the illusion.

What was Jim Morlino thinking here? The idea, as I understand it, was to create a kind of new genre: children's cinema. By creating dramatic presentations of historic events with a cast of young people, it will create a more lively interest in history as well as get kids engaged in film making. It is a crassly quantitative approach to film marketing - if you want kids to see your film, put lots of kids in it. It obviously didn't work; the people who told me about how bad the film "sucked" were kids who were supposed to be lulled in by it. It's kind of like when people pitching things to the "urban market" think that a movie must have lots of black people in it to be appealing to African Americans.

Okay, so those are the bad things. There are some good things about the film, though. The French Revolutionaries are blasted as not only bad but actually in league with the devil, who has several cameo shots whispering into the ear of Robespierre. The Traditional Latin Mass is featured prominently, as are several older devotions - we see people kneeling in the fields to pray the Angelus, reference to the teachings of St. Louis de Montfort. The film is very Catholic, and the scenes of the young people acting out these devotions is touching.

This could have been a really great movie; I would not have minded seeing this exact same film but with adult actors. The age-inappropriate casting just ruined the whole thing for me. Still, my kids did enjoy it to some degree; my son was dressing up like a Catholic Vendean for the next two days. Maybe it is more appropriate for much younger children, but as a movie for teens and adults, it failed.

One and a half tiaras.