Uplifting, unsettling cable TV film on communities for mentally handicapped

``Little things for little people'' is all Jean Vanier claims to do. But what extraordinary little things for what extraodinary little people! The Heart Has Its Reasons (EWTN/basic cable, Monday, Sept. 9, 9-10 p.m.) is probably the most unique little film you may see this year on either cable or broadcast television. It tells an unforgettable tale about the l'Arche community for men and women with mental handicaps.

Started by Jean Vanier in the French village of Trosly-Breuil 21 years ago, l'Arche has now become a worldwide organization of over 60 communities in 16 countries. The arch is a biblical symbol of deliverance.

Produced under the aegis of Martin Doblmeier and Gretchen Dysart of Journey Communications, Mount Vernon, Va., whose slogan is ``a new spirit in creative religious programming,'' the film has already aired on CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network), where it was hardly noticed by the commercial TV world. Now, it is being repeated on the Eternal Word Broadcasting Network. You may encounter difficulties in finding the program among your cable channels unless you ask your local system operator to air it.

``The Heart'' is the first in a series of documentaries entitled ``Signs of Hope,'' which will feature several outstanding communities in the world today.

The film is a difficult one to watch because it does not spare viewers the details of a wide variety of physical evidence of mental disturbances.

Manned mostly by low-paid volunteers, l'Arche welcomes the rejected, abandoned, sequestered ``simple but wounded'' people and tries to give them a sense of friendship and security.

According to founder Jean Vanier, ``the anguish of abandonment is difficult to watch.'' That is as true for the television viewer as it is for the volunteer workers and therapists. One is reminded that, for the most part, these handicapped people live lives with few of the normal pleasures of society -- they usually miss the marriages, births, christenings, and graduations of their own families. At l'Arche they are at least welcomed into the community, touched lovingly and allowed to feel productive.

Shot mostly in France, although there are some sequences at l'Arche in Mobile, Ala., the film is tender, caring, engrossing . . . but still uncomfortable. It is difficult to view this film without using it as a gauge against one's own happiness, one's own perspective.

``The Heart Has Its Reasons'' succeeds effectively at its own reason, its own purpose: to record the unselfish commitment of a group of people ``to walk for a lifetime with the poor and the weak.'' At the same time it demands that viewers reexamine their own commitments.

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