Richard Nisley

Review–Heidi, the movie & why the story still resonates
Pop Culture Released - Apr 17, 2020
"Heidi" is a popular children's story of an orphaned five-year old girl that nobody wants. Her grandfather doesn't want her. Her aunt Dete doesn't want her. And the housekeeper Fräulein Rottenmeier doesn't want her either. Undeterred, she continues to smile and return kindness for coldness, and after three years of being shuttled about, finds happiness, friendship, and family. It's a timeless story by Johanna Spyri, that models the ideals of the Apostle Paul's "Ode to Love," from the 13th chapter of First Corinthians. What are these ideals? Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, and sincerity. "Heidi" has been made into a number of movies, the most famous perhaps, is from 1937, and starred Shirley Temple in the title role. The version I watched was made in 2005 and stars a young Irish actress named Emma Bolger.

The story begins when Heidi's Aunt Dete takes her to a mountain cabin high in the Swiss Alps to stay with her cold-hearted grandfather (played by the appropriately gruff Swiss actor Max von Sydow). After being ostracized from the nearly village, he has been living the life of a confirmed hermit, surrounded by mountain goats, and stunning mountain vistas. The last thing he wants is the responsibility of raising a young girl. In the presence of Heidi's cheerfulness and unbreakable spirit, his coldness soon yields to warm acceptance. Next, she befriends Peter, a young goatherd, and accompanies him to the high pastures where the goats graze on grass and wildflowers, and produce goat milk. Heidi learns the art of making goat cheese, which is her grandfather's business. She also develops a strong bond with Peter's mother, and grandmother, who is blind.

After three years, her Aunt Dete returns to take Heidi to Frankfort, where she stays with the rich Sesemann family, and provides companionship for their only daughter, Clara, who is confined to a wheelchair. She and Clara become fast friends, and with help from Clara's tutor and grandmother, Heidi learns to read and write. However, the Sesemann's strict housekeeper, the aptly named Fräulein Rottenmeier, finds it hard to accept Heidi whose mere presents seems to provide a constant disruption to her daily routine. In time, Heidi grows homesick and mildly ill, and with help from Clara's grandmother, returns to the Alps to live once again under her grandfather's roof. Heidi and Clara stay in touch via an exchange of letters. Clara's doctor recommends Clara visit Heidi, believing the fresh air of the mountain country, and her warm friendship with Heidi, will do her good. The following summer with help from her grandmother, Clara visits Heidi and spends the summer with her.

Peter the goatherd, however, becomes jealous of Heidi's and Clara's close friendship, and pushes Clara's empty wheelchair down a steep ravine. Grandfather rescues Heidi from the ravine, after her failed attempt to stop the wheelchair from from being dashed to pieces. At the same time, while attempting to run and save Heidi, Clara takes her first steps and realizes she can walk, however unsteadily.

Over the summer, Clara's legs grow stronger, so that by the end of summer when her father and grandmother arrive, they discover Clara no longer needs the wheelchair. In his desire to continue Heidi's education, the grandfather returns to town and reopens his townhouse. The movie ends with a happy scene in which Heidi is shown playing ball with Clara and Peter.

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