[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 153 / Feb. 15,2010 ]


This film is set in Lorraine (France) near the German border. An attractive 40-year-old woman is sent to prison for killing her 6-year-old boy. After serving 15 years for the crime, she is released and, smoking a cigarette and looking very gloomy, waits outside for someone. There, for the first time in 15 years, her younger sister, now 30 years old, appears, and they embrace each other hesitantly. The younger sister has offered to have her stay with her until she finds a stable job.
The film calmly traces the lives of both sisters and shows the difficult circumstances surrounding them. Their parents had completely broken off all connection with the elder sister once she was jailed. Their father died a few years ago and their mother was interned in an institution because of dementia. The mother was from England and from time to time babbled English words. The younger sister and her husband, having no children of their own, adopted two girls from Vietnam. (The elder sister felt she was responsible for her younger sister not having children.) The father of the younger sister's husband had escaped to France from Poland during the Second World War and after falling ill was no longer able to speak.
The people surrounding them regarded the heroine of the film suspiciously because of her past crime. During an interview for a job, the president of a company, hearing that she had killed her son, shouted in a loud voice, "Get out of here!" The younger sister's husband, on hearing that she had let the older sister take care of their baby when the home helper was on holiday, got irritated and shouted, "How do you dare entrust our baby to a person that has killed her own child?" Nevertheless, the heroine is the first one not to forgive herself. She firmly punishes herself. Actually, there was something very sad concerning the crime which she did not attempt to disclose in court and not even to her sister. Anybody seeing her empty look could notice her deep despair.
At the same time, nevertheless, some people supported her warmly. Her sister's daughters, confused at their first cool encounter with their "aunt," begin to talk cheerfully to her and she gradually opens her heart. Her sister's father-in-law, unable to speak, is often smiling and reading books. He welcomes her into his room, where they read together, something the heroine enjoys. A university professor, a classmate of her sister, had been working as a prison chaplain and he too shows an understanding of the heroine. Having lost his wife in a car accident, he finally begins to feel love for her. Once every two weeks a policeman visits the house to notify her to appear at the police station. He is divorced and lives alone. Out of loneliness he too declares his feeling for the heroine. One day he tells her he has finally decided to go to the Orinoco River (Canada), a place he has long desired to visit, but later on he commits suicide.
The heroine gradually becomes cheerful through meeting various people who treat her warmly, even though all of them too are suffering from deep inner wounds. Her cheerfulness is most significant. When the younger sister's classmates visit the house, they ask for her and she always answers, "Here I am." Finally, she reveals to her sister the circumstances of her crime and embraces her with a flood of tears, an attitude she has never previously shown because of the cold inner suppression of her feelings.
We tend to think of criminals and assassins as monsters. Nevertheless, they also have a human heart. In this bulletin there is an article about Fr. Lee from Korea. When he visited Japan, he showed photos of prisoners on death row who were able to smile after going through rehabilitation programs. He challenged everyone, saying, "What do you think? Do they look like monsters to you? Even people facing the death penalty are able to smile." The volunteers' attitude of service opened these prisoners' hearts and restored their humanity. Only by meeting and interacting with one another can people change.

[Shibata Yukinori, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo]
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