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The Letters

Current Feature Synopsis - The LETTERS

Current Feature Synopsis

"The LETTERS" - synopsis

Danghram, India, 2003.  A car speeds through the back roads of India.  Behind the wheel is Father Benjamin Praagh (Rutger Hauer), a priest dispatched by the Vatican as postulator for Mother Teresa's cause for sainthood.  He arrives at a remote hospital where people are gathered around the bed of a frail Indian woman named Monica Beshra.  The healing of a tumor in her abdomen will mark the first of two miracles required by the Vatican before someone can be canonized a saint.   

Father Praagh later arrives at the retirement quarters of Father Celeste van Exem (Max von Sydow), a priest in his eighties who was friends with Mother Teresa and was her spiritual advisor.  He shares with Father Praagh letters that she sent to him over a forty year period, letters that reveal a spiritual darkness she suffered the better part of her adult life, something not even the Vatican was aware of.  This suffering began when she started her work with the poor in 1946.

In one letter Father van Exem reads to Father Praagh she refers to having "no God" in her … a revelation that prompts more questions from the younger priest, at which the older priest begins to reflect back on when he first met Mother Teresa in 1939 … when Mother Teresa, then Sister Teresa, was a young nun teaching at the Loreto convent in Calcutta.  He looks at a photograph of the two of them when they were younger, and the film slowly morphs from cepia tone in the photograph to full enriched color taking us back to 1939, when Mother Teresa arrived in Calcutta.  

We witness the moment on September 10, 1946 when Mother Teresa first received her calling to leave the convent and go live among the poor … and serve them … make Mota Jiel, the poorest slum of Calcutta, her home.  We witness her struggles with her own poverty as she began her work, her lack of support from her fellow nuns at the convent, her inability to get the attention of the Vatican, her depression as the nuns at Loreto turned their backs on her, referring to her as "evil" for leaving her cloistered life … and then the day when her former students began to, one by one, graduate from Loreto and join her, marking the beginning of the Missionaries of Charity.

Throughout the story we return to Father Van Exem and Father Praagh, the older priest referring to his admiration for Mother Teresa for her devotion and perseverance to serve the poor.  As Father Praagh asks Father van Exem questions, the old priest periodically sits back in his chair and continues to reflect, sharing with Father Praagh his witnessing her struggles, her eventual sadness, and the sadness he himself felt as he would read her letters as they arrived.

Along the way a BBC reporter, assigned to Calcutta as a bureau chief during post-war India, begins to hear about Mother Teresa's work in the cities worst slum district.  On a slow news day he wonders out into Mota Jiel to locate her, and finding her attempts to get an interview and is rejected.  When he says to her, "Your work with the poor", she corrects him with, "God's work, not mine".  

This unexpected modesty and selflessness fascinates the reporter, who's an avowed atheist, and he begins to visit her weekly in hopes of getting an interview.  When she finally relents, Mother Teresa becomes news around the world and over time she and the reporter form a lifelong bond and friendship.  At the end of his life he dies a devout Catholic.

Returning to Father Praagh and Father van Exem in present day, the older priest unexpectedly offers the letters to Father Praagh.  He is convinced that the letters will provide final proof to the Vatican of Mother Teresa's worthiness of sainthood.  Father Praagh takes the letters, vowing to guard them with his life.  

On returning to the Vatican, Father Praagh gives an impassioned speech to a gathering of cardinals in the Vatican's boardroom, ending the speech with why Mother Teresa, in his opinion and based on his findings, should be canonized a saint.  The speech is interlaced with scenes of Mother Teresa working in the slums … receiving the Nobel Peace Prize … and a final scene with her walking down a lonely road in Mota Jiel, now an old woman, while haunting music plays over.