Catholic literature Jul 8, 2011 14:38:52 GMT
Post by assisi on Jul 8, 2011 14:38:52 GMT
If the Vatican ever tore itself away from its present troubles long enough to compose a similar list [to its 1995 recommended films list], I wonder if its clerics could find a comparable range of offerings. The question resonates far beyond the world of film trivia. Some 50 or 60 years ago, the great filmmakers treated religious themes seriously and placed those themes firmly on the cultural landscape. These auteurs created brilliant studies of Christian sanctity, and sometimes presented the churches and their clergy in heroic roles (like the indomitable Resistance priest in Roberto Rossellini's 1945 film Open City). While these films might have been critical of orthodoxies or hierarchies, they presented Christianity as something demanding respect and inquiry [even if the auteurs themselves were finally unbelievers like Ingmar Bergman or Luis Bunuel, and concluded faith was untenable or misguided, they nonetheless saw the question as important - HIB]. Faith mattered. But what would a culturally literate person take from European films made in the past decade or so?
One major problem is the lack of films that address mainstream or institutional religion as opposed to general "spirituality." Looking only at films with a particular ecclesiastical setting, one finds a simple and almost uniform message: the church is a model of organized hypocrisy, dedicated to the repression of individual freedom, above all in sexual matters....
[Cites examples of perverted clerics in various recent films, including THE MAGDALEN SISTERS]
The apparent evils of Christianity are not confined to explicit sexual abuse. Churches also conspire to rape the mind. The Danish production Worlds Apart (2008) describes a teenage girl brought up in the Jehovah's Witnesses faith but ostracized when she tries to live the life of an ordinary young European. As a study of life in a strict religious sect, the film is excellent, but it stands out as one of the very few treatments of everyday Christian life of any kind in contemporary Europe. [It seems from this that the film is bleakly straightforward about the emotional cost both to the individual psyche and in terms of broken family ties and friendships involved in leaving a rigorist sect, as compared to films such as the British SON OF RAMBOW and the Northern Irish THIS IS THE SEA in which characters who have been brought up in the ultra-strict Exclusive Brethren abandon it almost instantly on exposure to modern popular culture without any apparent doubts, guilt, or ambivalence - HIB] In Europe, far more than in the U.S., religion appears in cinema as a problem, and the solution to that problem is usually liberated sexuality. Consider the 2000 film Chocolat: it was set in a grossly repressed Christian village, and the two adjectives are close to synonymous.
If modern Europe has produced major Christian films, their settings are so exceptional that they can have little relevance to ordinary religious practice. One personal favorite of mine is the 2006 Russian film The Island, a biography of a fictional Orthodox monk, a charismatic saint of immense spiritual power. ...
Equally neomedieval was Into Great Silence, a visually stunning 2005 documentary about the lives of French Carthusian monks. The recent Vision explored the life of Hildegard of Bingen. Like The Island, these films were critically acclaimed, but what does that reception say about contemporary attitudes to faith? Religion, it seems, may be a vital and transforming force, but it is the preserve of highly trained mystics dedicated to life apart. Religion is a matter for trained professionals. Ordinary people are firmly being told: don't try this at home. [This might be applied to OF GODS AND MEN as well; one feature which the everyday piety of the Algerian Muslims and the life of the monks have in common is that the everyday viewer will not see these as something which might be emulated in their own world but as something exotic - HIB.]
Another manifestation of religion in popular contemporary television/cinema is what I would call the 'symbolic' representation - in reality reducing the power of belief and faith to the symbols while rarely touching upon the moral or sacramental.
The holy water and crosses in vampire movies for example.
In the recent TV series 'Lost' the theme of redemption is central and the Christian/Catholic images are plenty - the statues of the Virgin Mary, the ending in the Church and the white light of the afterlife, the hint at a type of purgatory for some of those left behind. It is good to see the existence of the supernatural in the denouement but the bulk of the series will be morally centered in the secular with only a symbolic nod to God.
Maybe we should be happy at that level of representation and conclude that cinema and TV will be concerned with drama foremost. But there is a nagging feeling that this type of portrayal is an easy way out, a superficial representation of Christianity by evocative symbols but without any reference to the sacrifices and humility that is also part of belief.