Act of the Heart

Act of the Heart (1970) is the second of three films by Paul Almond featuring his wife at the time, Geneviève Bujold. Martha (Bujold), a deeply religious young girl from Québec's North Shore, arrives in Montréal and becomes a governess to a widowed businesswoman (Monique Leyrac) and her sickly son Russell (Bill Mitchell). She joins the church and sings in the choir, becomes infatuated with an Augustinian monk (Donald Sutherland), and suffers deep pain at the tragedy she experiences when Russell dies. She temporarily loses her faith, and declares her love for the monk. He renounces his orders and they live together. She takes a job singing at a roadhouse to support them, but is consumed by guilt over her moment of weakness and commits suicide on the mountain overlooking Montréal under the cross.

Highly praised at the time as a work of cinematic art comparable to the intensely personal films of the great Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, Act of the Heart is, in essence, a film about fear, religious repression and ego-destruction centred on the commanding presence of Bujold, who looks young and vulnerable yet also very self-contained. Considered by critics to be the best in Paul Almond's trilogy (which includes Isabel and Journey), the film demonstrates his love of the characters, presenting their lives with an aura of warmth and verisimilitude.

Act of the Heart won six Canadian Film Awards - for director, actress (Bujold), art direction, overall sound, sound editing, and musical score - but was a box-office failure.