Friday, March 23, 2012


One of the most moving and heartbreaking/heartwarming films I know of is the 1996 French film, "Ponette." The role of Ponette is played by 4 year old Victorie Thivisol. Her role in the 96 minute film is almost entirely unscripted, nearly extemporaneous. Ponette has recently lost her mother in a car accident and because her father travels for a living he sends Ponette to live with relatives. Ponette searches desperately for her mother wherever she thinks her mother might be and wondering all the while why her mother doesn't come to get her. The child's playmates at school play tricks on her claiming the tricks will bring back her mother. There are also playmates who befriend her as best they can. Near the end of the film Ponette, in a desperate search for her mother, leaves her school room, goes to the burial ground, and begins to dig into the grave of her mother. Exhausted, crying in grief and despair, Ponette suddenly sees her mother. Child and mother embrace, crying in happiness. There are consolations, kisses, mother and child becoming one in true mother-daughter spirit. Of course the mother is a fantasy, a chimera, a need fulfilled for the child. The mother says all the right things to her child, always being with her in spirit, always seeing, always understanding, always knowing, always loving. When Ponette walks away from her mother's grave to return to the classroom she is satisfied that her mother is still with her and that she, Ponette, will never be truly alone again. Ponette narrates the ending of the film by saying, "She told me to learn to be happy."
I love that line. It tells me we aren't born happy which is the reason 85% of people will answer, "Just to be happy," when asked what they would like to have more than anything else in the world.

Yet we know that nothing exterior to us can make us happy. No person can make us happy. Happiness, as Ponette says, is something that is learned from life's experiences. We are happy as we learn to incorporate life's unhappiness, its sorrows, its grief, loss, disappointment, loneliness, into a broadening of our interests, our friendships, our intimacies, our time, our cultivation of life's ready-to-go gifts, our challenges and even life's dangers, to plunge into the wealth and riches of daily life as it comes to us. We can learn to be happy. It comes when, above all else, we have learned not to be unhappy.