Jim Morlino, Catholic film-maker and president of innovative Connecticut-based Navis Pictures, talks with Regina Magazine’s Meghan Ferrara about his movie The War of the Vendée.
By Meghan Ferrara
“A friend suggested ‘Why don’t you do the War of the Vendée?’ Jim Morlino recounts. “And I said, ‘The what?’ I’d never heard the word; I had no idea what he was talking about. That was a period of history and an event that had escaped me.”
The War of the Vendee (1793 to 1796) was an armed rebellion against the French Republican troops which resulted in a general massacre of over 100,000 Catholics – men, women and children – in the west of France. As an early modern example of revisionist history, this shocking genocide was completely whitewashed from French history, and in fact until recently denied by the French government.
MASS BEFORE BATTLE: Young actors re-enact the common practice in the Catholic army to confess, hear Mass and to consecrate themselves to the Sacred Heart through Mary before entering battle.
Morlino’s Film Features An Excellent Score composed by Kevin Kaska, who offered his talents after seeing Navis Picture’s St. Bernadette of Lourdes. The film has garnered many awards including Best Film for Young Audiences at the 2012 Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film festival.
Due to the film’s positive reception, Jim was invited to work on The Hidden Rebellion, a documentary about the War of the Vendée. This afforded Jim and his wife the opportunity to visit France for the first time. Among the Morlinos’ favorite experiences were observing historical reenactors portraying important battles of the Vendée War and meeting historian Reynald Secher as well as descendants of Jacques Cathelineau and Henri de la Rochejaqueleinm.
An invitation to assist in the funding of a new, full-length documentary on the Vendee War – The Hidden Rebellion.
NAVIS PICTURES’ FILMS ARE CAST ENTIRELY WITH YOUNG CATHOLICS, not professional actors.
“There is something intrinsically beautiful and valuable in capturing and celebrating the creativity of young people as well as watching them give their talents to God and to Our Lady,” Morlino explained, adding, “Well, I love kids, number one. I love my own and, by extension, we are blessed with a great group of other Catholic kids who come from families with a similar philosophy as us.”
Jim described his youthful actors as respectful, attentive and well read.
“I find that this type of young person makes for a natural actor. When I studied acting formally, we were often encouraged to recapture certain elements of our youth to use on stage such as our innocence and emotional availability. I’ve found that many times these kids already have those basic building blocks. They don’t have the artifice that adults do.”
What Happened in the Vendee
After exploring the making of The War of the Vendée, our conversation naturally segued into the historical events that inspired the film.
THE PRE-REVOLUTION VENDÉE: “These were happy poor, many of whom, like most of Western Europe, were subsistence farmers. The Church provided spiritual sustenance for these farmers and the people of France by running hospitals and schools in addition to aiding the poor.”
Contrary to prevailing opinion, “the Revolution was not a widespread popular uprising against abuses of monarchy and corrupt church. And the resistance wasn’t confined to the Vendée or to Brittany. There were similar revolts all through France,” according to Morlino.
THE EMBLEM OF THE CATHOLIC OPPOSITION WAS THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS a devotion which began seventy years prior to the Revolution through the preaching of St. Louis de Montfort.
The people had a childlike faith and a great reverence for their priests and nuns who brought them Christ. They also had a great devotion to Our Lady and the rosary. Many of the soldiers incorporated rosary beads as part of their uniform and their motto was “For God and King.” It reminded them that they were fighting for God’s rights as well as their own.
Honor & Dignity
BATTLE SCENE: How were the Catholic soldiers able to simultaneously fight for and remain faithful to their Catholic values?
Jim clarified how, despite the horrific efforts of the Infernal Columns to wipe out resistance to the Revolution and to eliminate the Catholic population, the Vendean soldiers conducted themselves with dignity and honor.
“The architects of the French Revolution knew exactly what their generals were doing, as proved by documentation which still exists in the National Archives.” Though they fought with cunning and used their knowledge of the land to their advantage, the Vendeans also treated captured Republican soldiers humanely, even when this was difficult.
On one occasion, when his soldiers wanted to exact revenge against Republican prisoners, Louis d’Elbée urged them to recite the Our Father. At the words, “forgive us our trespasses,” the Vendeans’ anger dissipated and they abandoned their plans for retribution.
Later, on his deathbed, Vendee commander Charles de Bonchamps pardoned five thousand captured Republicans. This act was commemorated by a statue designed by the French sculptor Pierre Jean David, whose father was among the pardoned.
The sacrifice of these Vendeans ensured the survival of the Faith in France.