Only one of the stories told in “Marie’s Story” belongs to the title character, based on the real-life Marie Heurtin (1885-1921), a French woman who overcame deafness and blindness to learn both sign language and Braille. The other tale told by this earnest — if slightly soggy — film, whose contours roughly follow the story of Helen Keller told by “The Miracle Worker,” belongs to Sister Marguerite Germain, the almost impossibly idealistic nun who taught Marie.
Upon her arrival at Sister Marguerite’s convent, where education is offered to girls who are deaf, but not blind, Marie is, for all intents and purposes, feral. Filthy and utterly uncommunicative, the 14-year-old (played by the remarkably expressive deaf actress Ariana Rivoire) is almost rejected by the school until Marguerite (the incandescent Isabelle Carré) steps in, agreeing to personally oversee the care of this matted-haired creature, who flails and fights against her would-be mentor like a frightened — and possibly dangerous — animal.
The first third of the movie tracks Marguerite’s frustrating efforts to penetrate the dark and silent prison that Marie seems to be locked inside. It’s a hard section to watch. Eventually, Marie makes a breakthrough, acquiring the sign for her beloved pocketknife, which she carries everywhere, sniffing it and rubbing it against her face like a fetish object.
After that point, the signs come tumbling forth from Marie’s fingers, in a manner that is made to seem even more incredible by virtue of the montage-heavy cinematic shorthand on which the film, out of necessity, relies. Soon, a cleaned-up Marie is communicating like a chatterbox.
One of the most important tools used by Marguerite to reach Marie is trust. Sadly, that trust cements an intense bond of affection. As the final act of the movie plays out, Marguerite begins wasting away from the tuberculosis that we have been warned, since early in the film, will kill her.
The movie by Jean-Pierre Améris milks the tears in the home stretch, making little effort to hold the melodrama at bay. The result is a story that everyone can feel great about feeling terrible about.
Unrated. At the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market. Contains nothing objectionable. In French with subtitles. 95 minutes.