Born to agnostic Jewish parents, Simone Weil was a French philosopher, a social and political activist, pacifist, prolific writer and Christian mystic. Today, she is barely remembered. Now, a new documentary has brought Weil back to the attention of American audiences.
In “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” New York filmmaker Julia Haslett is moved to understand the empathic response to suffering which Weil, who left a teaching career to work alongside factory workers, farmers, trade unionists and fighters in the Spanish Civil War, exhibited throughout her brief life.
Haslett’s own survivor guilt is in the foreground of the film. It is an issue that has tormented her since her teenage years, when her father committed suicide and her brother’s life-long depression and anxiety began. She was plagued with responsibility to alleviate not only her brother’s emotional angst, but also to be “responsible for people in pain” everywhere, because “if I don’t pay attention someone will die.”