Zlín 2024 Review: ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN Explores Awakening Into Emancipation

Canadian director Nathalie Saint-Pierre crafts a coming-of-age tale that navigates the transformative journey from isolation of a religious cult to self-discovery in cosmopolitan Montreal.

Contributor; Slovakia (@martykudlac)
Zlín 2024 Review: ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN Explores Awakening Into Emancipation

Canadian director Nathalie Saint-Pierre weaves a story that bridges the chasm between isolation and the chaotic vibrancy of cosmopolitan life in On Earth as in Heaven.

The film, set against the backdrop of Montreal's eclectic landscape, follows the journey of Clara, a young girl raised in an evangelical Christian community, as she searches for her missing sister, Sarah. As she leaves the cloistered community near the woods, she faces the world of discovery, disillusionment, and ultimately, emancipation.

Saint-Pierre, known for her humanistic and socially aware storytelling, first captured attention with her 2013 film Catimini, which depicted the lives of children under the care of child protection services. With On Earth as in Heaven, she continues to explore the themes of vulnerability and resilience among youth, but through the lens of religious indoctrination and personal liberation.

On Earth as in Heaven begins in the secluded and controlled environment of Clara's religious community. The initial scenes are imbued with a sense of tranquility that borders on the oppressive, setting the stage for Clara's subsequent journey into the unknown.


When Sarah disappears, Clara's world is shattered. As she feels separation anxiety and pressure from the community´s religious leaders and parents, she flees to Montreal's bustling cityscape in a desperate bid to find her sister. And bring her home. The transition from the quiet countryside to the dynamic urban setting reflects Clara's inner chaos, mixed with burgeoning self-awareness.

Lou Thompson delivers a restrained performance as the initially fearsome and naïve Clara. Her portrayal of Clara’s gradual transformation—from a sheltered, obedient girl to a young woman discovering her own agency—creates the emotional backbone of the film and the leading dramatic arc.

Edith Cochrane provides a counterpoint as freespirited estranged aunt Louise; she delivers comic relief in her self-destructive behavior. The odd couple of Clara and Louise drives the fish out of water story, as Clara learns the ropes of an unrestrained world, sometimes the hard way, and the carefree Louise starts to confront her alcohol and pill abuse.

The pairing of overly pious Clara and freethinking Louise appears as a hyperbole in the beginning, but Saint-Pierre along with the scriptwriter Marika Lhoumeau mitigate the collision of the polar opposites through a third character, Sam (Dominik Dagenais). The freewheeling and broke Sam becomes the only person actively helping Clara in the big city to find her sister, albeit the service is provided after Clara pulls out money she has. Sam´s openness and willingness win Clara over, even though his background remains a cipher. His demons and lifestyle emerge in the final act exploiting Clara's vulnerability.


On Earth as in Heaven contains several plot inconsistencies, particularly regarding Clara's self-rescue mission. The film does not explain how Clara, coming from a Luddite background, manages to finance her trip to Montreal or her use of taxis.

Furthermore, her seamless adaptation to the urban environment lacks credibility given her isolated upbringing. Director Saint-Pierre seems to hasten the plot to pair Clara with Louise, aiming to explore her rebirth in this new worldly setting. This rush results in a narrative that requires a greater suspension of disbelief, as the exposition is marred by these inaccuracies.

Otherwise, On Earth as in Heaven offers a different perspective on the coming-of-age genre, focusing less on hormonal exploits and more on the journey of self-discovery amid a world rife with contradictions and uncertainties. Saint-Pierre captures the essence of adolescence: its confusion, rebellion, and brief moments of clarity. Clara's quest through Montreal to locate her lost sister becomes an allegorical journey of self-finding, marking her transition from childhood to adulthood and from confinement to freedom, all while escaping repressive indoctrination.

The film screened recently during the Zlin Film Festival in the Czech Republic

Sur la terre comme au ciel

  • Nathalie Saint-Pierre
  • Marika Lhoumeau
  • Nathalie Saint-Pierre
  • Lou Thompson
  • Édith Cochrane
  • Dominik Dagenais
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Nathalie Saint-PierreZlín Film Fest 2024Marika LhoumeauLou ThompsonÉdith CochraneDominik DagenaisDrama

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