Bernadette: Special Edition (1988) - Pick

If you already own Jean Delannoy’s reverent Lourdes drama Bernadette in the first DVD edition from Ignatius Press, you owe it to yourself to give it away at once — and buy the new DVD Special Edition that Ignatius has just released.

The new offering is the must-have edition of a must-see film, even if you already own the first DVD. I’m serious; it’s that much better.

If you don’t already own Bernadette on DVD, now is certainly the time, with this new release of Delannoy’s scrupulously historical, spiritually sensitive retelling of the life of St. Bernadette Soubirous marking the 150th anniversary year of the Marian apparitions at Lourdes in 1858.

Featuring a new widescreen transfer and both the English and French versions of the film along with a number of bonus features, the new edition offers the full scope of Delannoy’s lovely cinematography, as well as the opportunity to hear Bernadette’s story in her own language.

Delannoy shot Bernadette in simultaneous French and English editions.

The original DVD included only the English version, but now Ignatius has obtained the French version, and the new DVD includes both. (The DVD defaults to English, so you need to choose the French version under Language Options and then choose the English subtitles, then return to the main menu and press Play.)

Also, where the earlier full-screen DVD cropped nearly 20% of the picture to fit TV screens, the widescreen aspect ratio of the new DVD restores the whole image. (One caveat: The widescreen is not anamorphic but letterboxed, with hard-coded black bars above and below the image. That’s fine if you have a standard television — but if you have widescreen TV, instead of a bigger image, you get black bars all the way around the picture. It’s still the whole widescreen image — just smaller than it should be.)

Amid an all-French cast, 15-year-old Sydney Penny, an American Protestant, learned French for the title role. Penny brings a refreshing degree of spirit, even tartness to the teenaged peasant saint who, like Joan of Arc, could put doctors and clerics in their place with disconcerting directness.

Bernadette’s visions are depicted simply but effectively: Instead of trying to show us what Bernadette sees, Delannoy lets the ambient noise fade away, and allows Bernadette’s expression to convey the experience as a simple tune by composer Francis Lai fills the soundtrack.

Praised by the Vatican as “a sensitive portrayal of a very moving story that deserves a wide audience,” the film is in perpetual screening at the Lourdes shrine. As well it should be, thanks to its historical fidelity and reverent treatment.

The special edition comes with a 16-page full-color pamphlet featuring information about the film and about St. Bernadette as well as interviews with Penny and Delannoy.

There’s also a 23-minute video interview with Penny on the DVD, and a CD with three additional radio interviews.

Bottom line: Don’t even think of sticking with your old Bernadette DVD.

Content advisory Nothing objectionable. Highly recommended family viewing.