Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #17

Re: Into the Desert: Lent and Film

Would you consider supplementing an English-only list? I love the idea of a Lenten movie night, but I have several children under reading age, and my husband just dislikes reading his movies. LOL. I will have to carve out time on my own during the week to watch the intriguing foreign films you have included.

Good question. I admit it didn’t occur to me as I drew up my list that four of the six films require reading dialogue! (Two of the films, The Passion of Joan of Arc and Into Great Silence, have intertitles even in their native languages; the former is a silent film, and the latter is dialogue-free for long stretches, though it does have some sung Latin and spoken French.)

In general, I’m not very sympathetic to adults who don’t like subtitles — and even less so during Lent, when we should all be willing to compromise our preferred comforts and take on hardships. Tell your husband he should watch the subtitled movies with you as a Lenten sacrifice! Certainly he should see these films at some point in his life.

Pre-reading kids, though, that’s a different matter.

For what it’s worth, some context: The problem isn’t my preference for foreign films, it’s simply that English-speaking cinema and Hollywood in particular hasn’t produced much in the way of genuinely spiritual fare compared to the rest of the world. As I’ve pointed out before, Hollywood is well represented in the 1995 Vatican film list under the categories of Values and Art, but sadly underrepresented in the Religion category.

Adding family friendliness as a criterion narrows it further. The Vatican film list’s Religion category includes two British films (both scripted by Robert Bolt), A Man for All Seasons and The Mission, that are the right language, but both are too sophisticated for young viewers, and The Mission has some mature content. You might consider either of those films for viewing with your husband — both are appropriate Lenten fare — but it doesn’t help with the kids.

For more family-friendly fare, you might consider, say, The Song of Bernadette or The Reluctant Saint. Perhaps neither is quite as Lenten in spirit as A Man for All Seasons or The Mission, but they’re lovely films and among Hollywood’s best religiously themed fare.

Going back to my original list, The Miracle Maker is eminently appropriate family fare, and children might benefit from watching at least part of The Face: Jesus in Art (note that there is some gruesome Passion art in the second half). Also, some people might think I’m crazy, but I’ve watched Into Great Silence, or long bits of it, with pre-reading children. So much of it is dialog-free that language hardly matters (and what dialog there is one can easily read aloud for their benefit). They don’t necessarily sit raptly through the whole thing, but they may watch a good bit of it and sort of walk in and out while you have it on. It’s worth doing even if they don’t watch the whole thing.

Besides The Miracle Maker, there are other Jesus films you might consider. Some years during Holy Week my kids and I have watched the second half of The Gospel of John, comprising the Johannine Passion narrative. (It works quite well on its own, without the first half.) We’ve also watched bits of “Jesus of Nazareth” and The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Finally, I’m a great fan of watching silent movies with children (you can comment freely on the action and explain things to kids without worrying about missing dialogue). A great Jesus film to watch with even the youngest kids is The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ, a very early silent film with no dialog at all. You might also consider Cecil B. DeMille’s silent The King of Kings (not to be confused with the similarly named 1961 film).

Hope that helps. Have a blessed Lent!

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