Review: Summer in the Forest

Directed by Randall Wright, Heritage Films, 2018

This review was published in the April 2019 hardcopy edition of Revive. Sadly, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, passed away yesterday. We keep all those who knew and loved him in our thoughts.

In this heartfelt documentary, we are invited to spend time in a L’Arche community. This film is not so much the life story of Jean Vanier, but a peek into his everyday life and the community he founded.

The L’Arche community was founded in France in 1964 and aimed to do away with institutions for people living with disability and build life together instead. People with varying levels of ability live together in community, sharing day-to-day activities and becoming friends – equals – rather than residents and staff.

After visiting an institution for people living with disabilities in 1963 France, Jean was deeply affected by the suffering of those who lived there. He left his job teaching at the University of Toronto and moved to France to live with the people he met, helping to revolutionise the care system in the western world.

The violence, he says, was hard at first, but over time it became a place of peace.

I love a character driven story, and this film is just that. And let’s face it, a community like L’Arche just wouldn’t work without getting to know each other on a personal basis. The film shows the fun, love and vulnerability of some of the members of this community.

Men like Michel, who is haunted by memories of war as a child and of being beaten in an institution as a young adult. And David, a young man with Downs Syndrome who says he isn’t understood outside the L’Arche community.

Summer in the Forest is a slow moving film which brings you back to the pace of life in this loving, caring community. Jean himself says he dislikes visits to the big city of Paris, where relationships are more about competition than being vulnerable with each other. Love happens when we’re not seeking power; when we’re in a mutual relationship.

There are now 168 L’Arche communities in 37 countries around the world, and Revive has reported in the past that the Friends of L’Arche Community in Perth is working towards creating one too.

During the film, Jean visits L’Arche in Bethlehem and is welcomed with such open arms. It’s clear he’s had a profound impact on people’s lives all over the world. He also shows his own vulnerability, as an ageing man needing an arm to hold onto as he walks the streets of Bethlehem.

He shows us all how to truly love and be loved.

Summer in the Forest was released in Australia on Monday 29 April and will be screening at Palace Cinema Paradiso in Northbridge on Monday 20 May, and Luna Leederville, details available soon.

For more information visit

Heather Dowling

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