Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Gardening with Soul

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th September 2013

Not quite as racy as Rush but just as captivating is a peek into the life of Sister Loyola, the unbelievably sprightly nonagenarian nun at the centre of a local documentary which captured the hearts of recent film festival audiences. Graciously returning to cinemas so everyone gets a chance to see it, Gardening with Soul takes a simple premise – four seasons in the life of a God-graced gardener – and invites you to share in this quietly stimulating observation of nature’s journey.

Living at the home of the Sisters of Compassion in Island Bay, Sister Loyola is 90 going on 70, all gumboots, pragmatism and extremely wise words, including astute observations about how children are raised, based on years spent helping unmarried mothers. Her bond with babies is palpable and her compassion evident: “Never let children down,” she says “and if you find you’re not working so well with children – stop.” Not afraid to express her firm views on childrearing, she jokes “Because who can sack you when you’re in your 80s!”

Her insights extend to the various fabrics used for nuns’ habits over the years, and the various perils of each (too hot, too heavy), finishing with a typically pragmatic “What’s Rome got to do with it?”

Director Jess Feast clearly established a warm rapport with her subject, enabling the sharing of a story that dips into Sister Loyola’s early life, lost loves and her spiritual calling. It’s a lovely, candid portrait of one’s path to becoming a nun – but the film is also so universal in its themes and attitudes that the Sister’s tale will be as resonant to many viewers as her subsequent decades, spent tending to those in need, will be inspiring.

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