Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Project)

An ongoing survey of the Criterion Forum membership to create lists of the best films of each decade and genre.
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Lemmy Caution
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 3:26 am
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A japanese bookstore heaven

#101 Post by Lemmy Caution » Tue Apr 07, 2015 11:04 am

Probably about 5 years ago (edit: actually 11 years ago ...) I saw a Japanese film at the Shanghai Film Festival. It basically posited Heaven as a pleasant bookstore/library.
As best I can recall, one recently deceased character wasn't sure he was really dead and had some unfinished business, so was allowed to return to the living world effected via a motorized bicycle-cart that disappears along a rural road when the transition is achieved.

I'll try to figure out the title, and maybe should post this in the Identify This Movie thread. One woman is sad and suicidal and plays the piano. Fireworks are a big plot point, as the young man is/was expert at making a certain type of firework display integral to the town's identity. It was a pleasant low key meditative film, notable for how it used such a simple device and common location to convey the afterlife. I don't think it made much of a theological statement, but I could have missed some of the significance to a Japanese audience.
Maybe the bookstore was more akin to Purgatory, now that I think about it.
Last edited by Lemmy Caution on Tue Apr 07, 2015 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#102 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Apr 07, 2015 3:38 pm

How about this...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0423360/reference" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Lemmy Caution
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#103 Post by Lemmy Caution » Tue Apr 07, 2015 7:11 pm

Great, thanks. That's it, Heaven's Bookstore.
I was just thinking it must have been more like 10 years ago. 2004.

The Heaven in the film does function more like a (pleasant) Purgatory.
Everyone gets a 100 year span, so if you die before then, you spend the extra time in the Heaven's Bookstore until you reach the century mark, upon which you are reincarnated and memory of the past life is wiped away.
It really uses the heaven/religious device as a means to tell a love story in slightly unconventional terms.
Pleasantly diverting with some nice moments. I seem to recall the meditative moments and setup were charming and the later romantic complications more standard and less compelling.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#104 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Apr 07, 2015 8:59 pm

I never did get to see this. At the time it was new, I thought it sounded sort of like a fluffier version of Kore'eda's After Life.

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domino harvey
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#105 Post by domino harvey » Sun Apr 12, 2015 5:14 pm

the Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard 2006) Clocking in at just under three hours in the director's cut, this adaptation of Dan Brown's borderline illiterate airport novel keeps much of its source's conspiracies, pseudo-religious debates, and garden variety heresy. But, to my surprise, though the film is often marred by the thankfully short-llived artificial diffusion color timings of the era and not especially cleverly orchestrated as a film, it is as ludicrously entertaining as it is ludicrous. The sane part of my mind kept telling me to hate this film, but the rest of me was enjoying it for the throw-back tourist picture attributes still alive from decades earlier. The film's philosophical debates are so goofy that anyone getting offended was already offended before the saw the movie, and as a credible source of biblical scholarship, real or imagined, well, who exactly is going to a big budget Hollywood film for that? Tom Hanks and his infamous long locks are okay, and Audrey Tautou's a doll as ever (and her stab at the English language market here was short-lived), with the rest of the familiar faces doing serviceable jobs (this is the kind of movie where we're told a French detective is showing up and we automatically know it'll be Jean Reno before he even graces the screen). Look, I wouldn't try to talk anyone out of mocking this film or claiming it sucks, but I thought it made for fine, three star Saturday night entertainment, and the world could frankly use more pleasant surprises like this.

Last Embrace (Jonathan Demme 1979) Wah-wah. Roy Scheider is a recovering special operative who is kicked out of the spy service, is almost assassinated by his own, and then halfway through the film the narrative moves to this other group of people who are trying to kill him because of his genetic ties to a Jewish syndicate's brothel. The era of post-Nixon thrillers was certainly dying with this death-rattle, and frankly no one involved here even tried to make a compelling conspiracy pic. There is at least the Jeffrey Wells angle of praise in that the film does offer several opportunities to see Janet Margolin topless, so I guess there's that. Oh, I didn't mention the limp Hitchcock references, inserted with the sole cynical purpose of being mentioned in reviews. So, there's my due diligence.

the Miracle of the Bells (Irving Pichel 1948) Hollywood's go-to religious filmmaker Pichel helms what has to be one of the dumbest, most self-important films ever made during the studio system, and I was gratified to learn that neither critics nor audiences fell for this tripe. You know you're in trouble when Alida Valli circa-1948 is being sold to us as one of the greatest actresses of all time. This is one of those films that builds up a great performance (she's playing a Hollywood ingenue giving her first and last film role as Jeanne d'arc) and then when it happens you just stare at the screen, wondering what could have possibly possessed anyone to think she was even in the ballpark of giving a great performance. The movie has ten minutes of intelligence, and they come at the beginning when Fred MacMurray delivers Valli's body to her hometown and the funeral director shakes him down for cash. Frankly that ghoul is the only one here with half a brain in his head, I kept wishing he'd come back. Better him than a young Frank Sinatra playing dress-up as the local Catholic church father, or MacMurray's team of sycophantic newspaper reporters who somehow make five churches in a remote coal town a national news story because otherwise there's no final act. There's at least some sweet irony in a film about a movie being shelved needing to be shelved itself.

the Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson 2004) After one removes the famous (but exaggerated after-the-fact) depictions of Christ's agony at the hands of his tormentors, this is an artless costume piece virtually indistinguishable from its made for TV brethren that used to air every Sunday on TBN. The violence then becomes not a cause for creation but gimmick of phony differentiation. And the general lack of visual or actorly points of interest, outside of how Gibson alternates his scenes of torture so that every possible representation is shown (at a certain point one begins to anticipate the next camera set-up, which is never a good sign), doesn't help. Intellectually I get what Gibson thinks he is doing here by not shying away from the violence, but frankly it just comes off as juvenile and a cheap shot. Speaking of cheap shots, there's literally a scene immediately following Jesus' death where Satan is shown in CGI Hell screaming "NOOOOOO" to the heavens as the camera speedily zooms out. I shit you not, that really happens. Maybe Gibson spends so much time of the viscera and flesh-stripped ribcages to distract from things like that or the demons attacking Judas or how Satan cuddles a bald elderly midget while walking in the background of Jesus' big torture set-piece?

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John Cope
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#106 Post by John Cope » Mon Apr 13, 2015 8:44 pm

domino harvey wrote:the Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson 2004) After one removes the famous (but exaggerated after-the-fact) depictions of Christ's agony at the hands of his tormentors, this is an artless costume piece virtually indistinguishable from its made for TV brethren that used to air every Sunday on TBN. The violence then becomes not a cause for creation but gimmick of phony differentiation. And the general lack of visual or actorly points of interest, outside of how Gibson alternates his scenes of torture so that every possible representation is shown (at a certain point one begins to anticipate the next camera set-up, which is never a good sign), doesn't help. Intellectually I get what Gibson thinks he is doing here by not shying away from the violence, but frankly it just comes off as juvenile and a cheap shot. Speaking of cheap shots, there's literally a scene immediately following Jesus' death where Satan is shown in CGI Hell screaming "NOOOOOO" to the heavens as the camera speedily zooms out. I shit you not, that really happens. Maybe Gibson spends so much time of the viscera and flesh-stripped ribcages to distract from things like that or the demons attacking Judas or how Satan cuddles a bald elderly midget while walking in the background of Jesus' big torture set-piece?
I disagree with you on this one. By quite a bit actually. I think it's a great film in fact though that's not an assessment I arrived at quickly or easily. I was initially put off by it as well and didn't care for it much for many of the reasons you put forth here. But I was never entirely able to shake it and I did consider it exceptionally well composed and shot (the use of paintings such as Ciseri's Ecce Homo for instance as templates). For a long time I was interested in the DVD "special edition" of this which contained a "theological commentary" with Gibson alongside several priests and theologians he had used as consultants. I wasn't sure whether my interest was purely perverse or not but I was interested regardless. Eventually I got around to it and it was truly revelatory for me and I don't say that casually. I didn't expect the thorough going level of discourse on that track. I expected it to be serious because I never doubted Mel's piety but beyond that I had no real expectations. What was especially exceptionally beneficial about this track was the way it helped me read the film and understand it as a genuinely profound work of religious art, focused upon a heightened dramatic re-presentation of the Stations of the Cross as constitutive elements of the Mass/Eucharist (I now always think of the intercutting between The Last Supper and Christ being nailed to the cross). The inclination to get stuck on the violence is understandable and I'm still not crazy about it myself but it's his particular emphasis. I don't think it only has to do with hysterical sensationalism but rather comes from a very specific view of the Passion. Anyway, the question does arise as to whether one should need a commentary to re-orient oneself to such a degree. Normally I'd be more suspect about that but in this particular case I think it might be necessary, crucial even (I'm reminded of stories I've heard about displays of religious art in European museums in recent years in which super detailed explanations of the events and scenes were provided because of the assumption that in more secular regions much of this now may not be known at all).

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#107 Post by colinr0380 » Tue Apr 14, 2015 6:03 am

I wonder if the emphasis on the violence and suffering of sacrifice is a particular Mel Gibson trait. After all, most of his acting roles were about taciturn, misunderstood characters that he plays in particular getting brutalised and tortured until they reach a beatific state of transcendence, or at least save the day! It is there in Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, even stuff like Tim or What Women Want! And the films he has directed only emphasise that interest in cleansing self destruction in the face of brutalising regimes even more heavily. Both individuals to entire ways of life get changed and energised by one man's sacrifice.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#108 Post by Feego » Tue Apr 14, 2015 10:14 pm

There was a very interesting conversation between Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard posted on The House Next Door blog a few years ago, comparing and contrasting The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ. It's probably one of the most open-minded discussions I've ever come across of either film, particularly Gibson's, by mainstream critics. Neither holds back his criticisms, but they are genuinely interested in what both filmmakers were attempting to accomplish.

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swo17
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the gospel according to swo17

#109 Post by swo17 » Mon Apr 20, 2015 12:49 pm

Ahem...

Depictions of Christ

The Birth, the Life and the Death of Christ (Alice Guy, 1906)
Stately scenes from the New Testament acted out plainly, punctuated by early special effects that recreate Christ's miracles. Simple but powerful.

Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 1916)
One of the four stories here is of course the trial and crucifixion of Christ, which ties thematically to the other stories, and which provides the film with its majestic climax, where the film momentarily breaks free from its projector to be emitted from the skies.

Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)
Made with fascination and respect if not necessarily reverence, but most importantly, made with the craft of a great artist. The extras on the MoC release provide great insight into Pasolini's motivations for making the film.

Godspell (David Greene, 1973)
The musical version of the above gospel, starring hippies in clown make-up in modern-day New York. Not for everyone, although a song like "Day by Day" certainly should be.

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

Ordet (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955)
Of course, not all depictions of Christ are of Jesus of Nazareth. Some are also of delusional farm boys who preach to empty fields. But what difference does a mistaken identity make if the faith behind it is real?

Whistle Down the Wind (Bryan Forbes, 1961)
...But don't trust every guy on a farm who tells you he's the second coming of Christ. Some of them are completely sane and should know better! Here, a fugitive wanted for murder convinces some schoolchildren of his divinity, which buys him some time when they promise to protect him from further persecution.

God Told Me To (Larry Cohen, 1976)
Perhaps the hardest part about God commanding you to go on a killing spree is, like, who do you go to for a second opinion? What does it mean when many around you are getting similar promptings? How do you reconcile this knowledge with a lifetime of peaceful devotion? And what good could God have planned that would be worth all of this horror? Cohen entertains these questions for a few minutes before doing away with the mystery and just diving whole hog into some sci-fi silliness.

Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier, 1996)
Who God chooses to speak to and why he sometimes commands them to do horrible things is a mystery for the ages, as explored in this arthouse breakthrough starring Lars von Trier as God.

Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)
This film covers a lot of interesting (and scenic) ground. Both the settlers and the Indian that eventually joins them on their journey across the plains are religious, though coming from different traditions, they are deeply suspicious of one another. And the whole idea of blindly following someone who says they know the way has parallels both political and religious. How much of a chance do you give a leader to prove their mettle, and if they fail you, who do you follow next? If you never even see their fruits, how then shall you know them?

Satan Is Real

L'inferno (Giuseppe de Liguoro, Francesco Bertolini & Adolfo Padovan, 1911)
Come tour the many circles of hell in this cautionary "road movie," filled to the brim with all the practical effects that were known at the time (and maybe some that weren't).

Faust
By IMDb's count, the number of film adaptations of this story of a man granted a second chance at youth by the devil goes well into triple digits. (And that's not even counting loose adaptations like the wonderful Phantom of the Paradise.) I've only bothered to see the ones made by directors I like. Murnau of course made one of the most dazzling special effects showcases of the silent era with his version. Sokurov made an equally dazzling, but also confounding and perverse, version. Švankmajer, um, made one with puppets. And then there's the Brian Yuzna version (actually an adaptation of a graphic novel) which is proof positive that Satan is real, because how else could this movie exist?

The Student of Prague (Arthur Robison, 1935)
This is basically the same deal as described above, only switch out youth for the love of a girl who would otherwise never give you the time of day. I've droned on and on about this one before, but am legally obligated to mention it again here by the dapper gentleman in the corner over th—oh no, not again...

The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941)
OK, we get it Satan, you like to make things contractual. A lot of these stories might seem to run together at some point, but what sets this film apart is that it managed to land the actual devil for the titular role. (He would later go on to moderate acclaim as the actor Walter Huston.)

Cabin in the Sky (Vincente Minnelli, 1943)
Now finally, to weigh the scales a little more fairly, God gets into the game as well in a bet with the devil over the odds of a degenerate gambler reforming his soul. Only, guess what God, that's gambling too. (That's how they getcha.)

To Sleep with Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990)
For a nice change of pace, the devil here doesn't feel the need to get anything in writing, but is content merely to hang around the house and watch as his influence slowly widens the cracks that tear at a typical unsuspecting family. Despite the sometimes surreal or mythical elements, this is above all a remarkable depiction of everyday life for a black community in America (not merely focusing on those in sensational circumstances), of which there are regrettably few.

The Convent (Manoel de Oliveira, 1995) -- SPOTLIGHT
What better way to honor this great director's recent passing than by watching one of his most magical films? The story begins with John Malkovich touring monasteries with wife Catherine Deneuve in tow in search of evidence of Shakespeare's true identity, perhaps ensuring his own immortality in a sense at the expense of someone else's. Things get sidetracked though when their journeys lead them to some peculiar caretakers who seem at the very least to be in league with the devil (and who give the perfect response when called out on this). Much of the film ends up taking place in a variant of the Garden of Eden, with the seduction/temptation scenes taking the form of lengthy discussions on religious philosophy, all very germane to this project. A few somber orchestral pieces provide a constant companion to the proceedings, not unlike the music that they might play in the waiting room on your way to hell.

Hors Satan (Bruno Dumont, 2011)
Satan is real and living in France. Or maybe he is an angel? Or maybe just magic? Seriously, if any of you know, please do enlighten the rest of us.

Life as Purgatory

Prison (Ingmar Bergman, 1949)
One of Bergman's earliest films imagines the world as the exclusive domain of the devil, where any pleas for God's intervention are met only by silence—a topic that Bergman felt he had pretty well exhausted his first go-around and so never felt the need to address again.

Palms (Artur Aristakisyan, 1994)
A uniquely harrowing experience, Palms focuses its attention on those that society has cast aside—the crippled, indigent, and lame—plainly presenting them in harsh black and white images. But the film is most severe in its narration, framed as a desperate letter from a father to his unborn (and soon-to-be aborted?) son, ascetically pleading for emulation of the subjects on screen, urging his son to turn to God and not get mixed up in "the system" (i.e. the political and economic apparatus of the world), and gradually revealing a rather unsettling backstory.

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)
Life is hell because we don't forgive each other or ourselves. But maybe singing about it will make things better?

A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009)
Life is hell because you are alive. For now.

Inherent Vice

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian, 1931)
Jekyll's attempt to compartmentalize his sinful nature apart from his nobler self works at first, but he doesn't count on the id being stronger than the superego.

My Night at Maud's (Éric Rohmer, 1969)
Typical guy from a Rohmer film spends all night with a woman, talking about not sleeping with her, Pascal's wager, etc.

Mujo (Akio Jissoji, 1970)
People do bad things and it looks pretty. Apparently this is about Buddhism?

Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974)
Watkins painstakingly evokes the social and political climate, as well as the personal demons, that shaped the great Norwegian painter's art, vividly depicting both Puritan family members and an anarchist bohemian group that tugged at him in either direction.

Tender Mercies (Bruce Beresford, 1983)
A country singer whose alcoholism had torn his first marriage apart tries to put his life back on track.

The Decalogue (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1989)
Ten stories generally taking the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments as a starting point, but then proceeding to go off in intriguing directions. Not mere morality tales.

Battle in Heaven/Silent Light/Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2005/2007/2013)
Though they take very different approaches, each of these films essentially boils down to a husband tempted by another woman's flesh, and how heavily this weighs on the soul. If thy head offend thee, cut it off.

Hope for Us Yet

Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983)
A poet traveling abroad in Italy finds a much more cost-effective way to save the world than all that stuff Michael Bay had happen in Armageddon. If that's not films of faith enough for you, please note that the film also seems to portray the afterlife as a sort of nostalgic return to a childhood home.

The Annunciation (András Jeles, 1984)
In the Garden of Eden, Satan shows Adam the future of childrenkind after partaking of the forbidden fruit, and then leaves him to decide if we're worth existing or not. No pressure or anything.

The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin, 2000)
A scientist searches for a cure for the heart failure of the world while also vying for the affections of a man who for no doubt symbolic reasons is portraying Christ in a passion play.

Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014)
Aronofsky somehow managed to morph this spare skeleton of a biblical story into an only occasionally preposterous CGI epic that asks the very pressing and universally relatable question: "Is mankind worth saving?" Predictably, just about no one related to it.

Miracle Workers

The Miracle Woman (Frank Capra, 1931)
Barbara Stanwyck takes revenge on disengaged churchgoers by giving them empty spectacle instead.

Anna und Elisabeth (Frank Wisbar, 1933) -- SPOTLIGHT
Two women share a passionate, faith-based bond after one of them discovers that she has miraculous healing powers...some of the time.

The Goddess (Satyajit Ray, 1960)
An old man has a dream one night that his daughter-in-law is an avatar of the goddess Kali. As she begins to manifest the ability to heal, people gradually start to believe him. This doesn't turn out so well.

Near Death (Frederick Wiseman, 1989)
The doctors at a Boston hospital for the terminally ill occasionally get to take part in seeming miracles, but there's a lot of death, drudgery, and downtime in between. They spend much of this time discussing the value of life and their place in the grand scheme of things, as well as trying to give solace to their patients' family members.

Religious Ritual

Les Maîtres fous (Jean Rouch, 1955)
A group of colonized African workers fulfill their tasks merrily by day, but by night they "cleanse" themselves through religious rituals that channel the spirits of their oppressors (and not in the good way)—stomping about in caricature, frothing at the mouth, exposing themselves to fire, sacrificing animals—all to prepare for another day of willing servitude in the morning. A clear inspiration for Ben Russell's Trypps #6.

The House Is Black (Forough Farrokhzād, 1963)
A poetically brutal tour through a leper colony with the majority of the audio track devoted to the lepers' fervent prayers. Those most afflicted often draw closest to God, but is this done out of humility or resentment?

The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1968)
A feature film of nothing but depictions of religious rituals, presumably those practiced on and just below the surface of the moon. Particularly for this list project, make sure to watch the unedited version, as most of the cuts to the shorter version relate to expressly identifiable religious material.

The Eve of Ivan Kupalo (Yuri Ilyenko, 1968)
Lots of crazy stuff goes down during the festivities on St. John's Eve. (See also the Disney or Alexeïeff versions of Night on Bald Mountain.)

Incantation (Peter Rose, 1972)
Experimental film pairing nicely edited images of nature with an Islamic chant.

Fire Festival (Mitsuo Yanagimachi, 1985)
The residents of a fishing village seem to have a knowing symbiotic relationship with the gods, a bond which they honor by ritually destroying things and generally being terrible to each other. A nice companion piece to Profound Desires of the Gods.

Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986)
A faithful Buddhist attends numerous ceremonies while contemplating whether he's desperate enough to have to steal a bicycle—er, you know what I mean.

Iconography

Fuego en Castilla (José Val del Omar, 1961)
Val del Omar brings religious sculptures magically to life through psychedelic lighting effects. Rejoice at your power to be God!

Andrei Rublyov (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
Tarkovsky avoids the missteps of so many biopics by depicting a time instead of a person (the eponymous Russian icon painter).

The Ossuary (Jan Švankmajer, 1970)
A kinetic tour of a religious shrine (assuming that you worship bones, like zedz).

A Life Devoted

The Bells of St. Mary's (Leo McCarey, 1945)
Hey everybody, let's help save the local Catholic school.

Black Narcissus (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1947)
Apparently you can isolate a group of nuns in a foreign land, set up lodging for them at the edge of a steep cliffside, taunt them with superstitious local tales, and tempt them with men wearing painfully short shorts, and they'll still largely keep it together. But introduce the pollen from an exotic flower into their air supply and they will gradually all go nuts.

The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)
Have you ever met a more agreeable bunch of monks?

Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson, 1951)
Like a reed bending for every slight whim of the wind, this delicate, sickly man of the cloth feels intensely for all of the problems of his parishioners, including the ones who mean him harm.

I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)
A priest seems willing to take a murder rap over breaking the seal of the confessional.

The Nun's Story (Fred Zinnemann, 1959)
The true story of a woman's decision to take on the habit gets the epic Hollywood treatment.

Léon Morin, Priest (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1961)
What happens when the development of faith is inextricably tangled up with intense attraction toward the person helping you develop it? How much of faith is love, and how much of love is faith? Will this faith weather the storm when the messenger is long gone? If not, how cruel was it to engage in the relationship in the first place? And is any other outcome possible when the church lets people who look like Jean-Paul Belmondo become priests? My favorite Melville.

Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961)
More nuns going nuts.

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
A perfect exercise in ambiguity, the film seems mostly pessimistic on the surface as it follows a priest who, feeling abandoned by God, starts to take it out on his flock. But consider that Bergman claims in the informative making-of doc to have made the film to glorify God and a new meaning emerges—that it is precisely because of the emptiness in the world that we need to have faith and show kindness toward one another.

Simon of the Desert (Luis Buñuel, 1965)
Not to encourage the ridicule of others' religious beliefs, but this movie is hilarious.

Marketa Lazarová (František Vláčil, 1967)
Paganism and Christianity clash while God looks on (and occasionally chimes in) from above. Meanwhile, a young girl plans to join a convent but she still lives in medieval times so things don't turn out so well.

Thérèse (Alain Cavalier, 1986)
A young girl joins a convent and she lives in the 19th Century so everything goes smoothly until she gets tuberculosis. Her real-life counterpart is a popular saint within the Catholic church.

Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)
Buddhist monks feature prominently in this film that unfolds somewhat like a dream. The repetitious structure echoes the film's themes of karma and reincarnation, and its city/country duality allows for an exploration of the place of religion in different strata of society.

The Overnighters (Jesse Moss, 2014)
Eye-opening documentary about a Lutheran pastor placed in an extraordinary situation (in the middle of an oil fracking boom that brought a huge influx of migrant workers to his small town in North Dakota) who decides to take Christ's teachings to heart and take many of these people in at his church and even into his own home. He treads a line of compassion and recklessness here, and many have been quick to either praise or condemn him in simplistic terms. But the truth is that putting your beliefs into practice (especially on such a grand scale as this) is a complicated process, and this is a complicated man. A couple of noteworthy developments after the camera stopped rolling:
SpoilerShow
The film ends with Pastor Reinke apparently becoming one of the destitute that he has been serving. He confesses to his wife that he is being blackmailed by a man with whom he had a sexual relationship in the past (before the events of the film). As a result of this and the fallout of the overnighters program, he is presumably about to lose both his parish and his family. This brings the film full circle but is perhaps a little misleading. (I actually read a review somewhere that inferred that the various migrant workers movingly shown over the film's end credits are actually the faces of all the men that Reinke had taken sexual advantage of over the course of filming. Um, what?) While Reinke has recently been working odd jobs in the oil industry, and has even had to resort to sleeping on the floor of one of his former overnighters, a little extracurricular reading reveals that his homosexuality was not news to his wife, and that after a brief separation immediately following filming, he is back with his family and is committed to making that work. Sorry if that is a less dramatically satisfying ending. In more disturbing news, Keith Graves, the man who was only "technically" a sex offender that Reinke took in to his home to live amongst his children, has since been arrested on sex trafficking and other very serious charges.
Religious Abuse

Hypocrites (Lois Weber, 1915)
Hypocrisy is an interesting topic. No one is perfect, so can no one take a moral position without being at least a little bit of a hypocrite? To some extent, can't those most experienced with a certain vice take the most authoritative stance against it? Though of course there are some whose devotion is mere lip service, who make no effort to practice what they preach. It is to these that Weber directs her wagging finger, calling them out through the intriguing device of a nude female statue of truth—itself something of a litmus test for the audience's hypocrisy—that comes to life to show a better way.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)
People are still claiming more than ever these days to receive direct revelation from God, and yet we don't really seem to burn any of them at the stake anymore. I suppose this is progress?

Tabu (F.W. Murnau, 1931)
Tribe elders play the "reserved for the gods" card to break up a young couple.

Él (Luis Buñuel, 1953)
Man plays the "I met you at church so we are meant to be" card to first possess a woman and then eventually drive her mad.

The Cremator (Juraj Herz, 1969)
Are you racially pure? Do you long to see your loved ones on the other side? My ovens can help with that.

The Believer (Henry Bean, 2001)
Image

Leviathan (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2014)
Say what you will about organized religion, those bastards know how to construct an edifice.

Religious Allegory

Our Daily Bread (King Vidor, 1934)
A community's attempt to survive the Depression through collective farming has parallels with the struggles of the soul to escape the enticements of the world, to cast off vice and self-doubt, and to recognize miracles for what they are.

A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956)
A prison escape brings spiritual deliverance.

Au hasard Balthazar (Robert Bresson, 1966)
Or The Passion of the Donkey.

Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1968)
It's relatively easy to feel happy when immersed in the glow of whatever provides you with inspiration—a special someone, artistic or philosophical epiphany, the love of God—but how do you respond when the light source is removed? Do you have faith that it will one day return or do you abandon all hope? Do you spiral into self-destruction? Do you cling to past joys and shun the present? Or do you rise up and give something back to the world?

Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
I like this interpretation of the film as a religious noir, filled with allusions to the Old Testament.

Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
Some things can never be fully known, and this is part of what makes them beautiful. Besides, it may just be that the thirst for this knowledge, or better yet, the sharing of this thirst with others, is more important than attainment of the knowledge itself.

Where Is the Friend's Home? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987)
The film’s title and themes are steeped in Sufism, as well discussed in the most recent 1980s thread, though they also happen to provide a beautiful illustration of the Christian concept of grace—that after all of our efforts, an intermediary is necessary to make up for our shortcomings.

Landscape in the Mist (Theodoros Angelopoulos, 1988)
A brother and sister wander across a bleak European countryside in search of their fabled father. All the while, the ominous, stone hand of God swings about, delicately suspended in the air above them, watching over and guiding them. But what happens when the strings break?

The Son (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2002)
A carpenter's dilemma about whether or not to forgive someone who has greatly wronged his family begs comparisons to another carpenter in practice a couple thousand years ago.

Lars and the Real Girl (Craig Gillespie, 2007)
Churchgoing community bands together to lovingly rehabilitate this guy back into society:
Image

Beyond the Veil

After Death (Yevgeni Bauer, 1915)
A man is too shy to requite the affections of a beautiful stage performer until she subsequently kills herself and haunts him as a ghost.

Where Are My Children? (Lois Weber & Phillips Smalley, 1916)
Bonkers yet powerful anti-abortion tract moves between heaven and earth in speculation of the fate of both aborted children and their would-be parents.

The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)
The Black Plague is that much harder to get through when the dead can be seen dancing in plain sight.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
A bit too quick to take things on faith, a private detective becomes obsessed with his deceased charge almost enough to will her back into existence. Also, nuns make some people jumpy.

Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973)
I like the interpretation someone here gave that Christie's character embodies the peace that faith can bring after a difficult loss, whereas Sutherland's shows certainty to be an uneasy, dangerous, and perhaps even unachievable ideal.

Ponette (Jacques Doillon, 1996)
A little girl learns about resurrection and then puts this knowledge to use when her mother dies. A scene of impassioned prayer late in the film is particularly devastating.

Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001)
Man isn't sure if he is alive anymore, relives the movie Slacker.

One with the Infinite

Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1962-64)
Innately both animal and celestial, a man cycles through the seasons of the earth and of his own life. By the end, what has he become?

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
The evolution from ape to god.

Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, 2011)
How coal is made.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2011)
How Wookies are made.

Meet the Mormons

Brigham Young (Henry Hathaway, 1940)
It's a bit of a wonder that this seeming puff piece was made in Hollywood at all, but it's even more surprising to learn that the LDS church was not directly involved with its making! Dean Jagger apparently took the title role seriously enough that he eventually joined the faith years later. Also starring Vincent Price as Vincent Price playing Joseph Smith.

My Turn on Earth (Craig Call, 1986)
Filmed performance of a musical stage show dating back a decade earlier that had come about in the wake of Godspell, aiming to teach children the Mormon (but still pretty universally relatable) take on the purpose of life (e.g. learning from your mistakes, being charitable, the importance of family). There are not really any singing or dancing skills of note on display here, and the production does veer at times into Barney & Friends territory, but at least a few of the songs are legitimately fantastic (studio versions of a couple of examples here: 1 2).

Deseret (James Benning, 1995)
This is more about Utah history than Mormonism per se, though the two are so intertwined that you can hardly tell the difference. Historical snippets from the New York Times concerning the affairs of Utah are read over scenic images of all the many wonders that the state has to offer. Both the actions described in the paper and the manner in which they are written are at times quite violent, though given the latter it's not always clear how much credence to give the former. (Some later readings even seem overly apologetic about what had been written in the past.) There's some nice structural stuff going on here as well, but above all, this is a remarkable film about divides informed by prejudice, as well as the incongruity between the beauty of the earth and the ugliness that we inflict upon both it and each other, with or without religion.

Brigham City (Richard Dutcher, 2001)
In the early oughts in Utah, Dutcher ignited a local craze for films aimed squarely at LDS audiences that no one else would ever want to watch. Within this movement, he fancied himself as something of a Mormon Dreyer. While this is nowhere near the case, this film of his comes closest I think to moving in interesting ways in that direction. It's about the clash between faithful folk in a small town and the evil lurking on the outside, personified by the sudden invasion of a serial killer. That last part (i.e. half of the movie) doesn't really work, but the film hits some strong notes when it focuses on the simple, heartfelt rituals that the townsfolk turn to in times of crisis. Dutcher later left the church and now makes "edgy" films that don't appear to have had much luck in receiving any kind of distribution. Though on that front I personally prefer Neil LaBute, who actually made his earliest films while still a practicing Mormon!

New York Doll (Greg Whiteley, 2005)
One thing the church does internally is called the home teaching program, where you are sort of assigned to be friends with other members in your area. So one day Whiteley (not a film director at the time) finds that he has been assigned to none other than legendary New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane (who converted to the church post-stardom) and Whiteley soon begins to realize that this guy's story is just starting to get too good to keep to himself. What Whiteley might lack in filmmaking skills is more than made up for by the events that he captures over the course of the film—if you made a story like this up people would call it mawkish, but the ring of truth to it all lends the film a certain sincere sweetness. Whiteley went on to direct the Netflix documentary Mitt.

Spreading the Word

Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)
A preacher agrees to hand her ministry over to a smooth-talking salesman to help drum up more followers.

Salesman (Albert & David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1968)
The Bible includes no instructions as to how it is to be sold.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
It takes a certain kind of man to lead the charge in spreading Christianity to the natives of the jungle (in exchange for all of their gold of course). Unfortunately, some of those men are stark raving mad.

The Sacrifice (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1986)
If you want to ensure that what's most important to you survives to the next generation, plant a tree.

Shooting the Messenger

The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)
The extremes of good and evil clash when an innocent young girl on her way to church crosses paths with a couple of monsters.

Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini, 1972)
The famed mathematician fought for an enlightened reconciliation of religion and science, but the superstitions and persecutions of men, as well as the frailty of the human body, left him drowning instead in a world devoid of knowledge.

The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
To a certain extent, when you intrude on someone else's property and start insisting that they're living the wrong religion, you've arguably brought upon yourself however they decide to respond. Which is why you should never even set foot on the pagan isle run by Christopher Lee.

There Will Be Blood/The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007/2012)
Both mental wrestling matches between two incredibly strong-willed men, one of whom represents some kind of organized religion.

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domino harvey
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#110 Post by domino harvey » Sat May 23, 2015 5:16 pm

Adventure in Baltimore (Richard Wallace 1949) Disposable fluff about early suffragette Shirley Temple rocking the mores of North Baltimore by daring to paint pictures of shirtless men and pushing for more volition for womenfolk. Temple's subsequent feather-ruffling leaves her pastor father Robert Young in a bit of a pickle, but he does eventually deliver a climactic sermon lambasting his parish for their childish behavior (which, cleverly, we never get to hear). This is a mildly entertaining programmer of some minor interest due to its half-hearted feminist rhetoric, an appeal that would soon shrink from screens in the coming decade as housewifery became more important than increased female agency. The film's opening is also cute, with the narrator promising to take us back to simpler times when women acted "correctly," only to keep having to hit rewind every decade as Temple's rambunctious female figure keeps undermining the speaker's take on what true (ie demure) femininity looks like, until we've arrived at the turn of the century, where we stay for the rest of the picture.

Angels and Demons (Ron Howard 2009) As expressed earlier in this thread, I found the Da Vinci Code ridiculous but nevertheless entertaining, albeit in a silly way that didn't inspire me to lob too heavy a defense in its favor. The sequel, apparently more loosely adapted from Dan Brown's prequel, is not any less ridiculous. Indeed, it's plot and assorted narrative contrivances are even more absurd than those found in the first. And yet for all its myriad shoulda-been flaws, it's a surprisingly effective thriller that does force my hand in throwing some more effusive praise in its direction.

95% of the movie unfolds over a five hour period (and at two and a half hours, that's not too far from real-time, at least for a big Hollywood production like this) and the race against the clock keeps everything moving far faster than it did in the rather lackadaisical first film. To describe the plot at this juncture is to undermine any hopes me convincing anyone here to see this, but I nevertheless will give a brief summation: In the wake of the death of a popular Pope, the Illuminati resurfaces after centuries of silence, steals a vial of antimatter from CERN, and kidnaps the four most likely papal candidates, executing them every hour on the hour at four different theologically/culturally relevant sites throughout the city, to be capped with the eventual detonation of the antimatter at midnight, destroying the entirety of VC and every significant Catholic leader gathered for the papal succession vote. So, that's stupid, but it's the kind of convoluted, overly-conspiratorial stupidity that can survive a well-made treatment that plays it straight but not reverential. And that's this film.

Though by the second or third last-minute arrival by Tom Hanks at the latest holy church within Vatican City I really started to question the physics of everyone involved (The film shares a similar sense of hypothetical spatial geography with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's TV project Fringe), the film actually starts to fit its various pieces and reveals and double-crosses into a satisfying pattern that ends up offering a more nuanced (!) take on the Catholic church than that found in the previous film, and its criticisms here are more cogent and relevant. The film is also frequently insane in its set-pieces, exhibiting a welcome freedom to commit madness no doubt granted to Howard and company in the wake of the huge success of the first film. I'm also guessing the director's cut I watched added in a bunch of violence cut for a PG-13, because it's awfully gory at times. So while it may be heresy to say so, I found this one of the better conspiracy thrillers of recent memory, and you don't need to have seen the first film to follow anything here.

El cant dels ocells / Birdsong (Albert Serra 2008) The Three Wise Men aimlessly wander around various abandoned locales en route to and from the birth of Christ. A kind of cinematic senility occurs, wherein minute after listless minute passes and yet not much of anything happens. I guess this is supposed to be transcendent or Mean Something, but there's only so much one can get out of three doughy old men swimming in a pool or wandering just over the horizon and then back again as the camera dutifully keeps filming. After about forty minutes of this, a catatonic Mary and Joseph appear. The film's most exciting moment transpires during this interlude, as Mary pokes what I believed to be a baby goat with her finger for upwards of several minutes. The baby goat is then later revealed to in fact be a baby sheep by the subtitles. Thrilling. I "get" what Serra is doing here with his extended distancing techniques and playful sense of undermining narrative concerns (and therefore undermining the central epic flourish of the source material) but this is the kind of thing that makes modern art house cinema look like a joke. (And no, unlike the loudest dissenting voice on the forum, I didn't compete against it at Cannes-- or did I)

the Other Side of Heaven (Mitch Davis 2002) True story of a Mormon missionary's assorted cultural explorations while being stationed in Tonga in the 50s. The film is unapologetic about our protagonist's purpose for being on the islands, but the film is surprisingly forthright in terms of the situations he faces while acclimating himself to the ways of the people and not the other way around. And for being a Disney movie, it doesn't shy away from some rather dark elements, including an island girl who tries to impregnate herself to earn the glory of a half-white baby, another girl who sells herself into prostitution in order to atone for the sins of her father who had her out of wedlock, and an extended side-plot wherein our protagonist's feet are eaten as he sleeps by rats! So, kid gloves are not really an issue here, though everything is still kept in PG boundaries. Disney's early 00s investment Anne Hathaway is also on board, briefly, as the letter-writing girl back home waiting three and a half years for our hero to return. I enjoyed this a lot and would call it the best Mormon film I've ever seen, but I'm not sure I've even seen others, unless something like Orgazmo counts (and it doesn't).

Spitfire (John Cromwell 1934) Oh dear, this is another one of those derned backwoods pitchers where tha homesy-soundin' folks wrassle wit' that thar English langeywedge. Katharine Hepburn is a backwoods orphan named Trigger who insults any local townsperson who trespasses on her property while secretly praying to God for the survival of any sick or ailing local. Hepburn's naive Christianity (her belief system is wholly formed by a deck of Sunday School cards) leads her to take biblical instructions literally (She physically knocks to enter the good graces of God, etc) and she begins to believe her prayer functions as actionable solutions to medical emergencies. Like most faith healing films, it's not hard to see where this line of self-aggrandizement will lead. Cromwell is a gifted director of female-focused films, but this movie's all but unwatchable, especially when Robert Young and Ralph Bellamy (two less-interesting Hollywood leading men one could not conjure) begin competing for the unappealing little hick's affections. This was apparently based on a popular play, in case you needed some reassurance that what's mainstream now means nothing to the march of time and relevancy.

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knives
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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#111 Post by knives » Sun May 24, 2015 5:25 pm

King David (Beresford)
Who could have expected the cheap television movie from a no name director would be the more cinematic and thematically deep version. Not to tease Gere too much since usually he is a much better actor than his reputation, but that reputation of bland nothingness sums up the stiff and going through the motions storytelling here. Saul, one of the most dynamic characters in all of literature and still one of the greatest portraits of depression, is just a mess ranging from no personality to crying baby with no reason given during the film. Not even an actor of Woodward's caliber can deal with Beresford's attempts to turn the character into some silly blank slated villain. Though Gere remains the biggest problem of the film even before he properly shows up about thirty minutes into the film. Pretty much the only thing interesting about David as a character (Considering how sure-footed and morally honest he is throughout the story; reducing most human aspects of the character as is the case with most protagonists from this era) is his status as an outsider which pretty and generically featured Gere can't bring to the fore at all. There's nothing to visually separate his from all of the other brown haired, bearded, white guys present. There's no sense of the Moabite's son nor of the red head bringing to mind the recently vanquished Amalakites. This isn't a David who needs propaganda to legitimize his claim to the throne. Hell even if they had him be the only one without an anglicized name that would be enough to indicate his status as outsider. Worse yet the one plainly textual point of interest for David, his relationship to Johnathan, is cut down to basically being an informed trait and would probably seem totally nonsensical to one who hasn't read the books informing the film. This is just a bad and worse yet dull film.

As for the religious worth of the film there is basically. The movie at best edits the story in a way to make it about a character who happens to be religious rather than a story of anything religious. It's pretty telling that the religious center of the story, Samuel, has one scene in the whole film which is told in a fashion emphasizing the politics of the situation and barely bringing word of any religious basis for the action. Consistently the movie works this way almost as if it were afraid to admit to any religious basis which is a strange thing to have happen given how well Beresford has dealt with religion in so many of his movies. Alas even the few bits of religious mention in the film, typically iconography, doesn't really make sense as presented. For example outside of the name why is the star of David present so much in the film considering it wasn't made until a millennium after and it isn't used in any sort of artistic or thematic fashion. It's just there as a piece of the setting. The exile of Absalom, whose role is so reduced as to beg the reason for inclusion in this adaptation, likewise is a clear cut example of a lazy handling of theology when included as they go straight to the eye for an eye bit without considering how it was used in the story (basically not at all since Absalom wasn't liable for the death penalty under that law hence the exile and allowance to return). In short despite source text this film basically has no place anywhere near this list.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#112 Post by bamwc2 » Fri May 29, 2015 9:08 pm

Viewing Log:

Amphitryon (Reinhold Schünzel, 1935): Since Domino gave me his blessing to put Brett Ratner's Hercules at the top of my list, I figured that my participation in this project would be incomplete without at least one exploration of the Greek gods. This German flick--set in the very Greek Thebes--goes for the Roman diety names in what is the first of many odd, but frequently charming choices. As the film opens we're introduced to the ravishingly beautiful Alkmene (Käthe Gold) who leads the Theban women in their prayers to Zeus to end their city's war and bring their husbands home safely. The off to pasture, but perpetually horny Jupiter (Paul Kemp) hears her prayers and leaves the henpecking Juno (Adele Sandrock) behind for some Theban action. What follows is a delightful if not entirely predictable comedy of mistaken identities that only scratches the surface of the Zeus's lecherous, cad-like ways. It's fluff, but fun enough fluff to make the journey worth taking.

Beauty's Worth (Robert G. Vignola, 1922): Screen legend Marion Davies stars as Prudence Cole, a young woman whose entire life thus far has been controlled by her two upright Quaker aunts (played with relish by Martha Mattox and Aileen Manning) who consider 'Goodness' to be an inexcusable profanity and react with religious fervor and offense to...well just about everything. One day Prudence's world is thrown through a loop when the rich and snobby Henry Garrison (Hallam Cooley) shows interest in the unrefined girl. What are his plans for her, and can Prudence avoid falling into the his machinations? Davies is charming, but the film is undoubtedly at it's best when it's thumbing its nose at the aunt's religious fundamentalism.

The Color of Paradise (Majid Majidi, 1999): Mohsen Ramezani plays Mohammed a blind Iranian preteen who's daily struggle in life is eclipsed by the sense of shame and resentment that his father (unnamed, and played by Hossein Mahjoub) feels over being the father of a boy with special needs in an area that is ill equipped to handle him aside from dumping him a special school for the visually impaired. Mohammed is a saint of a kid, spending his days helping out anyone and everyone, including a fledgling who has fallen from a tree. His father is far more cynical, openly cursing God for his lot in life.
SpoilerShow
The father's anger is put to the test in the end when Mohammed drowns in a river, while he survives. When Mohammed is revived is it a miracle? Has God saved him? Will the father's faith be restored?
Regardless of the theological ambiguity within the invistext, this was a great movie. Both of the leads delivered outstanding earthy performances, while the camera captures some truly beautiful shots.

Horses of God (Nabil Ayouch, 2012): And here we get a completely different look at Islam with a fictitious reconstruction of the events that led to a real life bombing of a cafe in Casablanca in 2003. As the film opens youngsters Yacine and Nabil live a difficult life in the Moroccan slums. The two are constantly victimized (including sexually) by gangs, unscrupulous business men, and even Yachine’s violent older brother, Hamid. As the film cuts ahead to the future, the young men find their lives without purpose or promise. There are very few legal paths to employment in their slums (Yacine and Hamid's mother resorts to prostitution, while Nabil briefly sells drugs), and the repressive autocracy that they live under makes things many times worse. Embittered Nabil turns to the only group willing to take him in: a particularly nasty sect led by a violent anti-Western cleric. Soon both brothers sign up as well, all leading up to the fateful suicide attack. Ayouch's film garnered much praise upon its release a few years back with its unflinching look at how dissatisfaction breeds violence. I have to concur.

The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009): Sitting at a hefty 86% fresh rating on RT, Ti West's horror flashback won over many a critic with its slowburn descent into terror. Though no masterpiece, it is an effective exercise in putting its poor lead through hell. Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) is a co-ed in need of money, so she takes a babysitting job at a creepy old mansion on the night of a lunar eclipse. Conveniently her ill fated roommate Megan (Greta Gerwig) drops her off and leaves her without any means of escape. The baby sitting job morphs into a job of watching an elderly woman who will of course "be no trouble at all". What Samantha doesn't know is that the house doesn't contain anyone else living, but is rather run by a satanic cult interested in impregnating her with the spawn of the Devil during the eclipse. The film is does an impressive job building up atmosphere, but when the killing starts, the film really kicks into overdrive. Overall, it's a very satisfying horror thriller.

Into Great Silence (Philip Gröning, 2005): Gröning's film, famous for it's long, wordless takes and use of intertitles to explain the scenes of a group of Carthusian monks as they go through their days in near total silence. And that's all there is: close to three hours of monks going about their daily grind. I tried watching this once before, but got bored early on and turned it off. Giving it a second chance now a few years later, I appreciated it a bit more (even with my inner atheist yelling at me that these guys are wasting their lives), but if Gröning meant some bigger point other than the surface documentary elements, then it was lost on me.

Mujo (Akio Jissoji, 1970): From the director of the Ultraman franchise comes this surprisingly great tale of sin and redemption in Buddhist thought. The film follows the exploits of Masao and Yuri, a brother and sister who grew up in an affluent Japanese household, but find that a night of horseplay as young adults leads them to sleeping together. Their incestuous affair leads to Yuri's pregnancy and she is shipped off to marry the man that her family thinks is the father. Meanwhile the volatile Masao takes up with a nearby failed Buddhist monk, turned religious sculptor who knows his secret. The film then turns to a fascinating examination of Buddhist themes of morality, purity, impermanence, and karma. I'm pretty sure that this'll make my list.

My Mother's Smile (Marco Bellocchio, 2002): And now for one at the other end of the spectrum. Marco Bellocchio's film tells the story of tortured artist Ernesto Picciafuocco (Sergio Castellitto) who survived a rough childhood living with his distant mother Irene (Jacqueline Lustig). One day a visitor from the Vatican surprises Ernesto--an atheist--with the news that Irene is a candidate for sainthood. This shocks him given his experiences with her. It doesn't take long for the film to turn into a banal and uninteresting mess; it's the Italian equivalent of maudlin American Oscar-bait.

The Ninth Gate (Roman Polanski, 1999): While this was in my wheelhouse at the time of its initial release, I somehow missed out on seeing Polanski's Satanic murder mystery until now. Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, an unscrupulous rare book dealer hired to track down and compare all the extant copies of a 17th century volume on summoning the Devil that the Catholic Church had sought to destroy. Of course his boss in this, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) wants to use the information to summon the dark master and gain his powers. What follows is a series of long chases and attempts on Corso's life while he is repeatedly saved by a seemingly benevolent witch played by Emmanuelle Seigner. It's silly, but it's fun. That's good enough for me.

No Exit (Jacqueline Audry, 1954): Made a decade after the publication of Jean-Paul Sartre's famous play, Jacqueline Audry (whom I'm ashamed to admit that I was unaware of prior to viewing this) successfully adapts the philosopher's work into a compelling film. The setting is familiar to most: Joseph Garcin (Frank Villard) is a coward who has betrayed his pacifist principles and shamed his wife so deeply that she dies. His eternal torment is to be locked in a single room with Inès Serrano (Arletty), a lesbian who manipulated a woman into murdering her own cousin; and Estelle Rigault (Gaby Sylvia), a young seductress who died of pneumonia but not before she drowned the child that she had as the result of an affair. The three are intermittently visited by an unnamed valet (Yves Deniaud) who provides the comic relief. Of course No Exit comes with its own set of potential pitfalls. With just four main characters (one of who is only occasionally on screen) and a one room setting, a cinematic adaptation risks becoming stale through sheer repetition regardless of length. Audy's changes go some way toward fixing that by having the character view their misdeeds through a magic window in which new settings and characters are introduced rather than have the three damned souls described the events.

No One Knows About Persian Cats (Bahman Ghobadi, 2009): Negar (Negar Shaghaghi) and Ashkan (Ashkan Koshanejad) are a pair of disaffected Iranian youth whose only real aspirations are to avoid Tehran's morality police, have fun, and get another member for their punk band that'll help the fulfill their dream of playing in a London festival. And that's pretty much the whole film. They're crazy, rebellious youth that put on a legally safe face while walking the street, but let it all hang out in private or when playing a venue. The film works well as a critique of the repressive elements of contemporary Islam, as the authorities constantly beat them down. If you're wondering how this film was made in Iran, the answer is secrecy. Apparently the crew worked non-stop for more than two weeks, lying about the content and bribing the police. After filming finished the two leads defected to Europe.

Rekava (Lester James Peries, 1956): Child actor Somapala Dharmapriya, plays the good natured Sena, a young boy living in rural Sri Lanka who helps out those in need. When the film begins a stilt walker passes by a group of children to entertain them. Two muggers attack him, but the quick thinking Sena saves both the entertainer's money and brings him help. In return for his good deed, a fortune teller informs him that he will someday become a great healer. This happens sooner than he thinks when his chum Anula (Myrtle Fernando) loses her vision after staring at the sun. When Anula regains her sight days later while Sena pretends to heal her, words spreads and it is soon believed that he has the power to heal from the gods. But what will happen to Sena and his family when the town finds out that what occurred was a coincidence rather than a miracle. The film is populated by nonprofessional actors who turn in great, naturalistic performances. Good story, and good music make this one an easy recommendation.

Thirst (Chan-wook Park, 2009): Korean maestro Chan-wook Park delivers another great effort in this tale of a Roman Catholic priest's descent into sin. Kang-ho Song plays Sang-hyeon, a lonely, but kind priest who volunteers to be intentionally infected with a deadly disease in the hope that researchers will be able to use him to create a vaccine. After briefly dying of the infection Sang comes back to life, seemingly cured, and holding the key to prevent the spread of the disease. However, he also returns as a vampire craving both human blood and the flesh of Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim), his friend's wife. Sang's descent from loyal perish priest to bloodsucking ghoul is an interesting one to say the least. Throughout the journey Sang never fully leaves his role behind, making him an occasionally "moral" killer, adding an interesting twist on otherwise tired tropes.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#113 Post by John Cope » Sat May 30, 2015 4:55 am

bamwc2 wrote:Into Great Silence (Philip Gröning, 2005): Gröning's film, famous for it's long, wordless takes and use of intertitles to explain the scenes of a group of Carthusian monks as they go through their days in near total silence. And that's all there is: close to three hours of monks going about their daily grind. I tried watching this once before, but got bored early on and turned it off. Giving it a second chance now a few years later, I appreciated it a bit more (even with my inner atheist yelling at me that these guys are wasting their lives), but if Gröning meant some bigger point other than the surface documentary elements, then it was lost on me.
I consider this one of the best movies of the 00's and of the year in which I first saw it along with, not inappropriately, Gordon/Parreno's Zidane. And similarly to Zidane the utter immersion in a meditative atmosphere is what is radical about it. Zidane really only required that approach to dislocate us, to get us to think and engage differently, whereas this requires a little more as we're more prepared for such an approach applied to a monastic community. In Into Great Silence, the length is the point. It provides the rare opportunity to share a bit of the experience of those lives with these men. It's enough time, enough pure duration, to settle into that rhythmical routine, that kind of focused concentration and awareness. And the intertitles are often repeated at different times over that length and in doing that Gröning shows great wisdom and confidence. He allows the film grammar to expand out the meaning of those moments and the possible meanings of those excerpts of text that much more; purely through the quiet and unemphatic juxtaposition of image and text new associations arise. And I see that too as a window into the monk's very particular world.

It may be that this film is a kind of litmus test in terms of tolerance for what it is doing or the finding of worthwhile insight in that. It may be that it was always going to be easier for me as I come at this from the perspective of an already established respect and appreciation for the cloistered world whether fully cloistered or not. A life devoted to study and meditation and a direct relationship to nature and/or the surrounding community with a heightened consideration of one's place within it sounds pretty much like the whole package to me, an ideal against which much of the rest of our "normal" lives seems lacking, often even facile and fatuous by comparison; I can't imagine much that would be more worthwhile (and that's leaving aside the very specific religious role these communities have). Obviously I'm sure that it helps to be receptive to this as a document of these specific lives, this vocation, and to what is being done formally as an analogue for that. But if that can happen the film and the experience of the film are revelatory.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#114 Post by bamwc2 » Tue Jun 02, 2015 12:40 pm

Viewing Log:

Century of Birthing (Lav Diaz, 2011): In this, my introduction to Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz's long form works (I have several more on deck for the 2000s project), we find two separate stories intertwining in subtle ways (if at all). The first focuses on a cult lead by the charismatic Father Turbico, who twists orthodox Christian teachings to fit his apocalyptic visions while being surrounded by beautiful "Virgins" who sing his praises as they dutifully do their chores. In the second story Homer is a director who struggles to finish the film that has occupied him for years. Instead of working on it, he spends his days talking film with anyone who will listen. Is the first story an imagination of Homer's, as some have suggested? I don't know, and I doubt that Diaz himself had a definitive answer in mind.

Distance (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2001): Speaking of evil East Asian cults, Koreeda's Distance tells the story of a group that poisoned Tokyo's water supply, killing over a hundred, before committing suicide. On the three year anniversary of the attack, the relatives of four of the cult members who died that day come together to recreate their family member's trek through the forest where they would find the city's water supply. A very lengthy portion of the film is handheld footage of the four as they make their way through the woods with very little dialogue. The effect is ethereally creepy (remember this was just a few years after The Blair With Project (1999)), but for my money the best part of the film are the discussions of the departed family members. It's far from a great film, but an interesting study on grief and memory nonetheless.

These Encounters of Theirs (Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, 2006): In what would sadly turn out to be Danièle Huillet's final film, she and her husband return to the writings of Italian communist thinker Cesare Pavese, whose work had given rise to arguably the duo's greatest triumph: From the Clouds to the Resistance (1979). This time the two draw four more dialogues from Dialoghi con Leucò, each one containing at least one classical Greek deity or other hero from antiquity. The subject matter is heady stuff, with the discussions frequently focused on arcane doctrinal matters about man's relationship to the gods. Every scene takes place outdoors, with the camera occasionally leaving the characters to explore the leaves and bushes around them before returning to actors. Everyone dresses in modern garb, and perhaps most bafflingly, the first twelve minutes or so of the film's run time focus on the backs of the actors in the initial dialogue. Like other work by Huillet and Straub, the film is intentionally dense, but ultimately a satisfying experiencing. I doubt that this one has a shot at making my final list, but the pair's Moses and Aaron (1975) may find a spot.

This is the End (Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, 2013): The Rapture serves as a backdrop for this deeply sardonic take on a number of real life Hollywood celebrities. Co-written and co-directed by Seth Rogen, the feature begins with him picking up real life friend Jay Baruchel from the airport. The two hangout, before heading to James Fanco's housewarming party. There they meet a number of celebrities playing horrifically flawed versions of themselves who die by falling into a pit leading to Hell. Survivors Seth, Jay, James, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson (with Danny McBride joining later) take residence in Franco's house where much of the film takes place. Clocking in at just under two hours, the film is perhaps a little overlong, but never wears out its welcome with plenty of hilarious riffs on LA life. I'm surprised that this very worthy comedy didn't create more of an impact on its release a couple of years ago.


Yoman (David Perlov, 1983): Constructed from footage shot over the span from 1973-1983, director David Perlov's "diary" serves as an intimate look at the nature of daily life in Israel (as well as briefly Paris and Sao Paulo) during that period. Using his own daughters Neomi and Mira as a focal point, Perlov examines the nature of Jewish identity, Arab disenfranchisement, war, the rightward swing of Israeli politics, and the collapse of the peace talks. Of course not everything examined is as broad as these topics, and the film is at its best when it takes a personal look at the subject, like Neomi's interest in dance and her travels to France to learn her craft. At six and a half hours, many would find Yoman too intimidating of a mountain to climb. Luckily Perlov has broken it down into digestible hour long segments that can be viewed at your discretion. It's definitely not to be missed!

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#115 Post by Numero Trois » Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:32 pm

bamwc2 wrote:My Mother's Smile (Marco Bellocchio, 2002): ....It doesn't take long for the film to turn into a banal and uninteresting mess; it's the Italian equivalent of maudlin American Oscar-bait.
I don't see how a film resolutely made from a skeptical point-of-view can be either "maudlin" or "Oscar-bait." I guess the key word in your formulation is "Italian equivalent?."

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#116 Post by knives » Tue Jun 02, 2015 3:22 pm

Why would skepticism prevent maudlin or oscar bait behavior? If anything an overemphasized skepticism could easily create maudlin behavior or characters. That seems half the joke in Mexican Bunuel, to great effect I should add, for example.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#117 Post by Numero Trois » Mon Jun 08, 2015 4:58 pm

It's a lot to do with the director's tone. Bunuel has a light touch and is frequently satirical. On the other hand Bellocchio's tone can be quite heavyhanded at times, often very much to a fault. He plods. I don't think he jokes very much unlike with Bunuel. Which is why My Mother's Smile seems to me as far away from maudlin as you could get. Not to mention Bellocchio's work as a whole.

I suppose I was being unfair in regards to the idea of what typical "Oscar bait" usually is. I had in mind the stereotype of middlebrow Miramax offerings with obvious emotional hooks. Looking at the wikipedia list of foreign film nominees and one can't help but be impressed, at least as far as the earlier decades go. It's a better list than I thought. Not bad at all. Christ, Woman in the Dunes received a nomination!

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#118 Post by knives » Mon Jun 08, 2015 7:56 pm

Not to sound argumentative since we seem mostly in agreement, but doesn't heavy handedness when used to a fault regularly create maudlin behaviors. Many Lifetime movies for example. To keep things in regards to religion don't many of these recent evangelical films suffer from a maudlin presentation at least in part due to an exaggerated skepticism in regards to philosophy and science? From the sound of it Bam feels to have just found the atheist equivalent to that.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#119 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Jun 09, 2015 1:10 pm

I always thought Kore'eda's Distance WAS pretty great. One of the few films I had to watch two days in a row -- in order to begin putting the pieces together properly (pretty much impossible for me to do on just the first viewing). No Westermn release -- seemingly the notion that people who do something monstrous are not, in fact, monsters but ordinary (if massively deluded) people is one that simply wouldn't work here in the US (or so distributors apparently thought).

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#120 Post by knives » Wed Jun 10, 2015 12:54 am

Malcolm X
This is about as Spike Lee a film as Lee could make. It's such an insane, sprawling, uncomfortable, thoughtful, and overly full film. It just doesn't have the time to fit its visual tricks, story, and character which I suppose is also its most impressive trick given the nearly four hour runtime. Nearly all of that has to do with Washington who is at his charismatic best tying even the film's most ludicrous ideas together. If anything this unflappable charisma makes X's moments of failure the only potential weak point of the movie as it's totally unconvincing that Washington's X could seem failing. His whole performance is summed up by that little smile he gives Peter Boyle at the end of part one.

The film really picks up from its second hour though. The first hour is fairly well treed territory for Lee and much like its subject lacking a lot in nuance. It's really with his conversion to his first variation of Islam that the film becomes like a long though well vocalized variation of Radio Raheem's death. All of the scenes with Al Freeman have a frightening sense to them with a certain amount of craziness attached to some very valid points. I wish we had the time for more of that actually because X's relationship with Muhammad is so fascinating and the film has to drop a lot of it for obvious reasons.

If there's any serious complaint I have about the film is that for one so strongly aligned with X's mind to the point it radically shifts style under the slightest change in the man it fails to capture the nuances of Black Islam and what shifted in X with regards to over his lifetime. There are hints to it and a few scenes of discussion like the aforementioned Freeman scenes which delve into it a fair bit, but even then it seems like Lee is only interested by it as a means to motivate rather than discuss civil rights. Otherwise the subject is only described through secular means. That first march which is in a lot of ways the centerpiece of the film brings up the Islam only as a way of making guilty X with the rest focusing in on the action of resistance. The film in short is lacking a great deal of philosophy for a man so expressive through it. It blunts some of his toughest and some of his most complex rhetoric. It also reduces the comparison the film makes to Dr. King, but that's a very small example perhaps better served by the television interview even if that is less inflammatory bizarrely. Though I suppose even in this the 200 minute runtime can explain to some extent why Lee had trouble fitting even more in. I suppose it's right that for an ever changing personality that the film has to shift too quickly to ever get a clear idea of his ideology.

A Jihad for Love
In many respects this is just another generic 'problems' doc, but occasionally it lights up into something truly great which easily places it ahead of other films of its ilk. This occurs when it is actively grappling with Islam as an ideology such as early on when the two Imam, one gay one straight, debate verses and the validity of which they can be used to condemn homosexuality. What comes as a fortunate surprise is despite some seemingly low production values by force of hiding various people's identities the camera work gets very creative and often abstract resulting in a more engaging visual experience then the norm. Though that doesn't help with the film being 70% people holding hands and saying they should be allowed to love whoever which doesn't seem terribly engaged to the supposed subject of the film and comes across as bland preaching to the choir. More scenes like the lesbian couple reading the law book, I couldn't tell if it was a Quran or some different text, and discussing the implications and perhaps even more in depth could have lifted this to an above average issues to doc into something great.

Go, Live, and Become
Wow, if this isn't one of the most pacted films I've seen of late. In short it covers the life of an Ethiopian boy who is rescued as part of Project Moses and lives what is in short a difficult life. It's not necessarily the best and it is certainly not without its problems, but for reasons such as its little talked about subject matter and the problematic point of view. I guess I should start from there. There is absolutely zero narrative reason for the boy to be a Christian and it points to a mildly racist irony to the film's creation and intended audience. There's a few scenes that use it for drama, but frankly they're not needed and are managed to hurt the film with unnecessary and glanced over by the film silliness. For example the conversion sequence is great and very devastating on the whole, but is turned cheap on the personal level because of this unnecessary christian identification. It seems this way exclusively as a comfort to the christian audiences and a way to distance from the more complicated issues of identity the Ethiopian Jews present.

That's a really massive issue which needs a lot to discuss, but I assume it's clear where it goes from what I already said. Anyways, potential antisemitism aside, this is a truly brilliant movie getting at the heart of refugee issues better than any other I've seen and at least showing an unsentimental affection for the lead. The humour is the film's most effective tool with bits like the changing of the name of an extra to Eddy to be more Jewish (as an aside anyone who picked up on the name I'd love to rehear it as I only remember the Olam portion) or the other son's terrible etiquette which additionally provides some of the sharpest commentary on the difficulties the character has. Though the truly picks up in the last two sections dealing with an older Shlomo and issues of memory and identity which are far more complex and thought out then the introductory stuff in the first half. The only really problematic sequence here is the debate one which favours political judgement to anything in the realm of realistic theology which is unfortunate as there are many places to go with racism in the religious community so to make up something just leaves a taste of laziness to the film reinforcing the idea it was made by Christians for Christians without a concern for what Jews, Ethiopian or otherwise, are like.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#121 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Jun 10, 2015 7:34 am

knives wrote:Go, Live, and Become
Wow, if this isn't one of the most pacted films I've seen of late. In short it covers the life of an Ethiopian boy who is rescued as part of Project Moses and lives what is in short a difficult life. It's not necessarily the best and it is certainly not without its problems, but for reasons such as its little talked about subject matter and the problematic point of view. I guess I should start from there. There is absolutely zero narrative reason for the boy to be a Christian and it points to a mildly racist irony to the film's creation and intended audience. There's a few scenes that use it for drama, but frankly they're not needed and are managed to hurt the film with unnecessary and glanced over by the film silliness. For example the conversion sequence is great and very devastating on the whole, but is turned cheap on the personal level because of this unnecessary christian identification. It seems this way exclusively as a comfort to the christian audiences and a way to distance from the more complicated issues of identity the Ethiopian Jews present.

That's a really massive issue which needs a lot to discuss, but I assume it's clear where it goes from what I already said. Anyways, potential antisemitism aside, this is a truly brilliant movie getting at the heart of refugee issues better than any other I've seen and at least showing an unsentimental affection for the lead. The humour is the film's most effective tool with bits like the changing of the name of an extra to Eddy to be more Jewish (as an aside anyone who picked up on the name I'd love to rehear it as I only remember the Olam portion) or the other son's terrible etiquette which additionally provides some of the sharpest commentary on the difficulties the character has. Though the truly picks up in the last two sections dealing with an older Shlomo and issues of memory and identity which are far more complex and thought out then the introductory stuff in the first half. The only really problematic sequence here is the debate one which favours political judgement to anything in the realm of realistic theology which is unfortunate as there are many places to go with racism in the religious community so to make up something just leaves a taste of laziness to the film reinforcing the idea it was made by Christians for Christians without a concern for what Jews, Ethiopian or otherwise, are like.
I saw this film a while ago, though cannot be too much help regarding the religious elements as these things likely need a deeper understanding of the cultural situation than I have! From my persepctive, I mostly remember it for the culture-clash stuff, of doing all the necessary things to be part of the society (including the circumcision and national service) but still not being particularly accepted (even the circumcision isn't quite kosher enough!), even by an adoptive family. There are a whole bunch of issues swirling about in the film: class (given the family's rather entitled middle-class liberal values get challenged, both by their adopted son and the wider culture's attitude to him, with them seeming strangely rather surprised by facing such trials), race and mixed race relationships, religion and 'purity', being a foreigner, being an orphan, being part of a wave of immigration into the country, etc. Every little thing seems to be emphasising the difference even within a tolerant society. Is Schlomo part of it or always going to be slightly apart from the mainstream, such as in (if I remember correctly, though it has been a while since I last watched it) the return from studying in France, airport set final scene. Is he part of a new breed of rootless international individuals having nebulous ties to a whole host of different cultures and countries, unable to pledge allegience to just one, or put secure roots down anywhere?

Roschdy Zem is the biggest name in the cast as the adoptive father but sadly after being a strong force in the young man's life ends up retreating more into being a slightly stereotypical one note 'grumpy dad' figure to the lead character once he reaches his late teens, something which I felt was a little forced (the love story and his girlfriend start taking more prominence from that point, with our main character's father being contrasted against the girl's father who is more unhappy about the relationship). Though I guess this is because the film's slightly questionable message eventually seems to be about suggesting that uncomprehending, passive men (including our hero) need the compassionate, courageous, proactive women in their lives to stick up for them, push their lives forward for them (and push them away to a different life), for their own good and the good of the continuance of society as a whole.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#122 Post by Numero Trois » Sat Jun 13, 2015 5:11 am

knives wrote:Not to sound argumentative since we seem mostly in agreement, but doesn't heavy handedness when used to a fault regularly create maudlin behaviors. Many Lifetime movies for example. To keep things in regards to religion don't many of these recent evangelical films suffer from a maudlin presentation at least in part due to an exaggerated skepticism in regards to philosophy and science? From the sound of it Bam feels to have just found the atheist equivalent to that.
Yes but evangelical movies tend to be that way because of general shoddiness on part of the filmmakers. Many of them simply don't know or care how to craft their arguments convincingly let alone all the other parts of their films. They seem incapable of doing better than that for the most part. Bellocchio on the other hand is in control of his material and the performances are uniformly good. The adversaries in his film (at least from my point of view) don't seem like caricatures. There's a distinction to be made between overwroughtness due to incompetence and a sluggish atmosphere brought by a director who is otherwise on top of things. Like I've said before, even Bellocchio's non-religious themed movies have a tendency towards sluggishness.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#123 Post by knives » Thu Jun 18, 2015 6:26 pm

Oh, God!
This is a far smarter film than I was expecting. The hilarity came assumed what with Reiner behind the scenes though it managed to top that. Nearly every joke lands even if this isn't quite the machine The Jerk was. Even the little dramatic pieces are able to balance a humour without undercutting the point. That seriousness to its premise is what really makes the film better than other god movies. There's a sometimes cute curiosity to its premise that Burns' god has a total glee for. He lightly brings up and tosses away all of the usual questions, but they seem well thought out in their consistency for such a toss-off. Teri Garr, one of the most underrated comedic actresses, is the best part of selling this even since she gets the only lame part of the story. That speech halfway through when she accepts what Denver is saying is needed, but poorly written yet she manages to pull it off. Throw in a Mr. Feeney cameo and this is a great comedy. The court case took up much less time then I expected which is good since it's such a straightforward case to parody to the point Reiner's friend Norman Lear had already tackled the same stuff in two minutes as a background gag in Cold Turkey. It stays around just long enough to make its point.

Oh, God! Book II
Everything intelligent about the first film gets thrown out about ten minutes into this reject of '60s television 'inspired' comedy. Any interest in the politics of the time or even basic theology is thrown out for The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes nonsense. The film basically hits all of the same notes as the original, but just different enough to show what pratfalls Reiner and his team avoided. It just devolves into the sort of evangelical nonsense that the first film parodied with a lot of Bruce Almighty styled help whiny white person with their minor problems type thing. It's also weirdly racist, but I guess that was in vogue in the '80s already.

Oh, God! You Devil
This is a fortunate relief from the second film even if the idea of Paul Bogart directing a comedy goes about as well as expected. The plot is your generic Daniel Johnson thing and moves along exactly as you'd expect. The tone is just odd with nary a joke even from George Burns until a random slapstick gag intrudes. George Burns doesn't even get much in the way of one liners despite having a far larger presence here then the other two films combined. The whole experience is just weird. In one breath it's absolutely atrocious way to go about things, in another it keeps a lightly amusing feeling to the whole thing. Thematically though the film is a further step down. Less offensive than the second, but totally uninterested in anything beyond the surface story.

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Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#124 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Jun 24, 2015 5:42 pm

Cold Heaven (Nicolas Roeg, 1991)

"We're not made or unmade by the things that happen to us. It is our reaction to them that matters. That's all God cares about."

This isn't really an entirely successful film but it has its moments. Stylistically this plays pretty flat and in a kind of erotic thriller mode, weirdly anticipatory of Raising Cain with its adultery plot focused on the female character in the love triangle, though the film itself begins with a Psycho-style afternoon sex liaison.

Marie and Daniel are in an adulterous relationship and planning on running off together. However while Daniel successfully dumps his wife, Marie has a much harder time breaking things off with her husband Alex. It seems as if she may be about to when they are together on a Mexican holiday, whilst taking a Pedalo out into the local harbour, but unfortunately at that moment Alex decides to go for a swim and whilst Marie is peddling aimlessly in circles, Alex gets run over by the driver of a distracted motorboat. Most of the accident material is filmed from underneath looking up towards the surface, Jaws-like, but it produces a couple of hauntingly beautiful images of the cloud of blood flowing from Alex's head wound.

Alex is taken to the hospital and pronounced dead by a number of doctors. The film here uses a neat technique of whispered overlapping voiceover as Marie is being informed of her husband's death by the doctor. It was difficult to make it out fully from my hissy VHS tape but I could pick up: "Widow...I got want I wanted...Did I?...What to feel?...What to want?" amongst other things. It is at this point that crucifixes and churches start popping up in the frame, turning this into quite a Catholic film already.

Marie goes back to her hotel room, husbandless and undresses in the mirror, which gets nicely intercut with the previous scene of viewing Alex's body and the accident (the editing is still a strong Roeg-ian aspect of the film at key points) and some more voiceover as Marie looks at herself in the mirror: "That blood....on me...in him...I can feel him....I'm closer to him now than before...I'll never be alone again...I'll never be alone again...never...". Followed by a scene of Marie in the empty double bed.

Anyway, six minutes before the autopsy, Alex's body disappears (resurrects) from the morgue. Marie returns home to be with Daniel, they make plans to go to a hotel in San Francisco area which Marie and Alex significantly visited a year to the day before his accident. Alex turns up dead but alive, and physically tormented whenever Marie betrays him or even considers leaving him for Daniel, with his head wound spontaneously bleeding, and dying and coming back to life over and over. I'll spoiler the next bit, which involves the (rather silly) religious element:
SpoilerShow
Marie, raised Catholic but a non-believer, had a vision at the beach the year before of the Virgin Mary ("With a halo?" "No, it was more like there was a spotlight on her, a very phony looking light") who in a Field of Dreams-style moment told her to 'bring the priest, rebuild the sanctuary by this place and it will prevail'. But Marie laughed it off and it seems is being punished for not doing the Virgin Mary's bidding, so the Virgin Mary seemingly conspired to cause the accident to kill Alex and then throughout the rest of the film is acting like a bad guy torturing a hostage in order to force Marie into doing her bidding!

The rest of the film cuts between Marie torn between her tormented husband and lover ("I felt like an assassin, not a victim. But this assassin had been given a second chance") and a bunch of nuns at the local mission who have all been having the same dream about Marie and the message she is carrying (if they knew, why did Marie have to do it? The film doesn't really say, but it is strange, especially as the special effects climax mainly involves a nun bearing witness whilst Marie rolls on the ground trying to escape and continue try to willfully deny what is happening in front of her!).

There is a quite funny confessional scene in which Marie relates all of this to an older priest who is continually rather distracted and obviously not really that engaged with what Marie is saying to him, looking at his watch or twiddling his fingers as she hestitatingly stumbles through her story! Perhaps it would have been better if Marie had met the younger, hipper priest in that scene rather than later on, as he proves a better spiritual guide for her! (By the way the younger priest is played by Will Patton, the same year that he was in another religious themed epiphany movie, The Rapture).

The film goes a little into Exorcist territory near the climax as we get a bit of a light show intercut with Alex writhing in his bed, but then everything turns out OK, Alex comes back to life, the young priest tells Alex that perhaps the message to 'rebuild the sanctuary' actually was a metaphor for rebuilding the sanctuary of her almost abandoned marriage. Marie runs back to the motel, past Daniel and into the arms of Alex. They embrace as poor old Daniel has to slink away.

Oh and in a quite amusingly blunt final shot Marie's crippled hand, casually mentioned in an offhand manner just once back in the Pedalo scene, suddenly miraculously gets cured as the couple kiss!
This is one seriously weird film. It feels ironic but plays po-faced. Alex is a real drip too (his lines of dialogue pre-accident are "You should exercise more Marie. If you could see the clogged, decayed arteries that I see even at 35 years old you would take exercise a little more seriously" and "Yeah, laughing's good!"), so bad that I wanted Marie to dump him! There was a lot I liked about the film though and it is definitely worth a watch for any Roeg fan, although have a better film to hand to view after! I liked that it is almost J.G. Ballard in the way that it is mostly about characters interacting in anonymous motel rooms with the sound of airplanes regularly passing by (I like to think it is meant to be the sound of the Virgin Mary circling in a holding pattern! But I think Her presence is meant to be represented by the butterflies) or closing the curtains in the middle of the day to shut out blandly blank-looking golf courses.

There also feels as if there are a number of connections back to Roeg's previous films: the first visit of the young priest to Marie's hotel room is a little like the Senator knocking at the door of the Actress in Insignificance. This is swiftly followed by a scene in a tiled bathroom with a watch dropping into the sink (also the nun who cuts herself is in a similar 'iconic' role to the Japanese lady in the Insignificance flashback). And Marie often looks at herself in a mirror similar to the Actress, or Thomas Newton. The central vision is a bit of goofy unnaturalness like that of the lake splashdown in The Man Who Fell To Earth. The early scene of Alex in the ambulance and going into the hospital is a little reminiscent of Bad Timing, though in no way as heavily edited as in that film (it was nice to see Theresa Russell accompanying the injured party rather than on the stretcher herself, as in Bad Timing!) And the event from the past cropping back up is a little like Track 29's study in repression.

The most interesting example is the central scene when Alex is taken off to hospital and Marie and Daniel go back to their room. They then end up in a bout of rough-housing sex with Marie screaming and wailing "Fuck me" over and over while Daniel tries to subdue her. It plays like both an anti-Don't Look Now explicit love scene and a reference to Russell's character's key scene in Bad Timing, only the man she is with doesn't take her up on her demands this time!

All the main actors are great in difficult roles (Particularly Russell, this coming in the middle of her great run of non-Roeg films: Impulse, Whore and her brief scenes in Kafka. James Russo is also good as the adulterous lover, sort of preparing the way for his other problematic leading man role playing opposite Madonna in Abel Ferrara's Dangerous Game a couple of years later. Mark Harmon as Alex mainly just has to roll around in agony looking ashen-faced for most of the film) , but I particularly liked the way that two Cassavetes actors, Seymour Cassel and Julie Carmen, turn up for individual scenes and entirely steal the show (Julie Carmen especially as the dumped wife Anna is by far the most vibrant character in the film, especially when she tries to beat up Daniel as he is leaving!)

So, it's interesting, rather silly throughout though but well worth watching once. Although be aware that aside from a couple of isolated dream sequence scenes in which the free associative editing turns up, this is Roeg in the late period straight ahead, uncomplicated storytelling mode.

It is also slightly disturbing to see a film that turns into a moral tale about the sanctity of marriage and the torment that a couple go through when considering separating as being the last film that Roeg and Russell would make together. (Beyond anything else Cold Heaven strikes me as a veiled remake of the core themes of the similarly adulterous Catholic guilt film The End of the Affair).
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:57 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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domino harvey
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Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 2:42 pm

Re: Films of Faith List Discussion + Suggestions (Genre Proj

#125 Post by domino harvey » Thu Jun 25, 2015 12:11 pm

Reminder that lists are due in a little less than a month!

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