Category Archives: Reviews

Summer In The Forest – The Reviews Are In!


002 Michel and Patrick Walking Near Trosly


“Right now, there doesn’t seem to much goodness in the world so do try to catch Summer In The Forest, an affectionate and joyously uplifting portrait of Jean Vanier… If the individual interviews don’t get you (the life of one contributor, Michel, was brutally limited by a bungled spinal injection he received as a child), then the idyllic-looking summer picnic in the forest that surrounds his original community near Paris will… the sheer humanity – of the man, his staff and his appreciative but quietly liberated charges – absolutely shines through. Viewing should be compulsory.” – Daily Mail

“Tender-hearted… exceptionally moving” – Sight & Sound

“Breathtakingly beautiful… the keynote is joy… It’s a place, a world, a dream of a world, where people who are usually at the bottom of the pile are given a taste of what it’s like when hierarchies of power give way to what you can really only call love… In these dark times, we need to know that there is summer in the forest. We need to know that there is joy and laughter and beauty and kindess and love… If you want to see more beauty and kindness, then go and see this truly important film. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. And it will remind you of what it really means to be strong.” – Christina Patterson, The Guardian

“Revolutionary… a tender-hearted documentary”Daily Express




“A thoughtful and refined insight… [The community] are not pressed to relay traumatic memories for the camera, but are simply permitted to behave naturally and with a genuine, unfiltered voice of their own, which is captivating to see… uplifting and motivating.” – The Upcoming


“This film could not be more timely!” – The Telegraph


“Exceptionally Moving” – Sight & Sound

059 Michel Petit And His Sister At The Lakeside
Reviewed by Pamela Hutchinson
At a day centre for people with learning difficulties in Bethlehem, 25-year-old Maha wants to drink a cup of tea. In a sustained close-up, while the orchestral score pauses, her twisted fingers struggle to get a grip on the handle or even the cup. When she finally succeeds, the music returns and the camera stays just long enough for her to take a sip, but not long enough for the glow of triumph to become mawkish. It’s a rare moment of suspense in Randall Wright’s tender-hearted documentary Summer In The Forest, about the L’Arche organisation, which provides support and residential care for people like Maha, and its genial founder Jean Vanier. It’s typical of the film’s structure, though, which favours day-to-day detail over context.
Canadian Catholic Vanier talks throughout the film, in a soft and unexpectedly English accent. While he discusses the importance of compassion and tolerance and recalls formative memories, it’s left to a title card to fill in the history of L’Arche. In 1964 a priest working as a chaplain in a house of ‘idiots’ in Trosly-Breuil, near Paris, invited Vanier to visit. He stayed to help, and under his supervision the house grew to become a village, a progressive and understanding place where residents could live independently, work and still receive essential care. Vanier had been shocked by his experiences during World War II: he was a young naval cadet when his father, who was at the liberation of Buchenwald, showed him horrific pictures of the camp. His mission to care for “rejected people” is, it is implied, the legacy of that emotional jolt, drawing a line of comparison between the Nazi death camps and the institutions from which he rescued his first residents.
Vanier is not the only character in the film to be haunted by the war. Michel, born in 1941 and living in the first L’Arche community since he was a young man, has nightmares about bombs falling, and visits a Holocaust memorial. Michel has the mental capacity of a child, but he has a lifetime of disturbing memories, from the war and from the brutal ‘home’ he was in before L’Arche. André, a sweet-natured man and one of Michel’s peers, has only recently admitted to his carers that his father was violent and abusive. He prefers to talk about the the future, and his dream of learning to read and drive.
When the film moves from Trosly-Breuil to Bethlehem, it is with a flourish – the caption announcing the location is delayed. It’s a tactic aimed at impressing the audience with the breadth of Vanier’s mission. Like everything else in this exceptionally moving documentary, it is designed to create more true believers. Vanier says that L’Arche represents not a utopia, but hope, and since its leader is in his late eighties, it will have to continue without him soon.

“An astonishingly truthful film that cuts to the heart of what it is to be human.”


By Rosa Monckton, Founder of Team Domenica.

This is an astonishingly truthful film that cuts to the heart of what it is to be human. It is about the importance of community and the acceptance of those who appear to be different from us, but with whom we share a profound humanity. It is about compassion, tenderness, dedication and understanding. It is a celebration of life and all that it throws at us, and shows the importance of finding joyous moments in everything that we do.  It is about sharing our strengths and weaknesses, but above all it is about the vision of one extraordinary human being – Jean Vanier, who founded l’Arche 50 years ago. This is his film, his story, his life’s journey, and throughout it all his powerful message of love and his extraordinary humility illuminates the way for all of us, if only we could find the courage to follow him.

This is a very important film. It is a film that could, and should, change your life, and the lives of all those people with mental and physical disabilities who lurk in the shadows of mainstream existence. It is a transformative film, and its essence is so simple … the importance of love.


“Summer In The Forest shows what life is all about”


By Katie Hollier, Trustee, Royal Mencap Society.

I’ve worked with people with learning disabilities for over 20 years and this film truly reflects what it is like to do so.

What strikes me as I get older is that we all have gaps somewhere in our psyche, whether it’s an emotional shortfall or something missing in the intellect.  The standard response to this is to find a way of filling that gap, fretting over what is missing.  This is where we can all learn a lot from people with learning disabilities.

030 Michel Petit And Christophe In The Woods

It seems to me that they compensate for what they may not have intellectually or emotionally by focusing on the things that make life enjoyable and worthwhile; relationships, music, cooking, sharing and learning. They rarely focus on political divides, and when they do, it’s generally to offer a view that we should help each other more.

Watching Summer In The Forest alerts you to this in a beautiful way.  It reaches out to one’s sense of what it is to be human and what it is to lead a worthwhile life. It talked to me of how it feels to connect with each other, make peace – and what life is all about.

I especially loved the episodes in the car, where Michel and his carer are laughing and joking, and also sharing some quite serious thoughts about Michel’s past.  It’s a part of the film that really resonates because they interact as equals, learning and teaching each other just by spending time together.  The helpers were like the helpers I work with – engaged and rewarded.

“An extremely important film.”


By Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Chief Art Critic for The Times.

It must be particularly hard to make a piece of documentary work like this. Nothing dramatic happens, there are no scandalous revelations. There is no climactic moment or, even, the promise of an ending to structure it. And, on top of that, the main protagonist – Jean Vanier – shies away from taking a star role.

He becomes almost a bit-part player in the story of his own life. This fact alone speaks volumes. What we are seeing is the drama of profound humility – and that’s a rare and precious thing in our celebrity-obsessed world.

The film feels in no way dutiful or worthy. It isn’t hammering a campaigning message home. Resisting the temptation to stress painful back-stories, to present subjects as victims or elicit patronising sympathy, it simply allows the people whom it focuses upon to speak for themselves. It gives them a voice. The marginalised are given the dignity which is too often snatched from them. I found that very moving. And I thought it particularly important, too, that the part which support workers play also came into it: not just their gentleness and laugher but their occasional impatience or appearance of boredom. You don’t have to be some kind of saint to live with people with learning difficulties. You just have to be human. It’s simple: but it’s also revelatory.


It matters that the film has high production values. Those less able than us are not just so easily, but often so wilfully, overlooked. They can feel unapproachable, even scary because we are not used to seeing them. We have swept them aside, hidden them behind the walls or packed them into the minibuses of the specialist organisations that are supposed to care for them. But this film requests that we take a good look. It neither focuses upon, nor shies away from, the facts of physical or mental disability. It asks us simply and frankly – and occasionally very tenderly – to accept those less abled than us as fellow human beings. I have never seen a film of this calibre do something like that before. It is extremely important. Even those who start out by flinching, will end up feeling love. And what more can you ask?

“An experience never to be forgotten.”


By Amanda Toone

I really loved Summer In The Forest.  For me, the film is a reminder of what’s important in life.   It demonstrates how the small things in most of our lives can be the big things for people with intellectual disabilities,  even picking  up a cup of coffee.  Instant satisfaction for them is rarely an option. As Jean Vanier said, “life isn’t a video game”.

119 Andre And Widad Planning A Trip

I loved the way the personalities were portrayed and enjoyed getting to know them, hearing their opinions, seeing their imagination in action and witnessing their human relationships.

The loving relationships Jean had with everyone in the community and the dignity and respect he gave them was extremely touching.  Watching Summer In The Forest is an experience never to be forgotten.