A reader writes: “I am looking for easy-to-approach religious movies, especially ones on saints. Intellectually challenging, subtitled, confusingly artistic movies seem to dominate. While I really love those types of movies, I am trying to find films for my Bible study group … We tried the first half of Diary of a Country Priest, and I worried one might try to smother herself with my sofa pillow to end her misery. Do you have any thoughts?”
When a Hollywood comedy pairs a dissolute, misanthropic curmudgeon with a cute young kid, you expect a story of redemption — particularly when the movie is called St. Vincent, and the curmudgeon’s name is Vincent. When the curmudgeon played by Bill Murray, it’s a done deal.
Nearly two decades before his Oscar-winning role as a Jew-hunting Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s lurid WWII fantasy Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz played an Auschwitz survivor whose escape is linked to the death of one of Auschwitz’s most celebrated victims, St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Two great mysteries hover over the cardinal moment in St. Maximilian Kolbe’s life, a quiet exchange of words with the deputy camp commander at Auschwitz-Birkenau heard by few and lasting probably less than a minute.
I have never seen a bad movie about Fátima. Three stand out to me: The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952) is the best known; Apparitions at Fátima (1992) is the most authentic; and The 13th Day (2009) is the most artful — and my favorite of the three.
Mary of Nazareth, now touring North America in isolated screenings hosted by Ignatius Press, is the latest in a number of Gospel films over the last couple of decades focusing in a special way on the role of the Blessed Virgin in the Gospel story.
For Greater Glory tells a story of religious freedom and oppression that is far too little known, and that would be important and worthwhile at any time, but is strikingly apropos in our cultural moment.
For Greater Glory in 60 seconds: my “Reel Faith” review.
If you don’t have 30 seconds to spare, here’s a spoiler: There aren’t really any dragons.
As played by English actor Charlie Cox (Stardust), Josemaría emerges as a likable, dedicated, virtuous young man much loved by his circle of friends, the first generation of Opus Dei. There are a few evocative scenes, such as the impression that a barefoot friar’s tracks in the snow make on the young Josemaría. Yet despite a line or two about Opus Dei spreading to other countries, there’s little sense of Escrivá himself as a figure of any particular note.
Like its protagonist, Saint Joseph Desa of Cupertino, throughout much of his lifetime and most of the film, Edward Dmytryk’s 1962 film The Reluctant Saint is a modest affair that has attracted little attention, but has more to offer than meets the eye.
The 13th Day is the best movie ever made about Fátima — the most beautiful and effective, as well as one of the most historically accurate.
Almost thirty years ago Olivia Hussey played the most venerated woman of all time, the Virgin Mary, in Zeffirelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth.” Now she portrays the most revered woman of the twentieth century in the reverential, Italian-made English-language production Mother Teresa.
Given the inherently less dramatic structure, The Passion of Bernadette doesn’t “tell a story” the way the original film does, but the portrait of Bernadette’s unassuming heroic sanctity and occasional tart rejoinders remains moving and worthwhile.
Warner Bros’ The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima may be better known, but Daniel Costelle’s 1992 Portuguese production Apparitions at Fatima is a more historically accurate and spiritually sensitive account of the visionary experiences of three young Portuguese children in 1917, culminating in the miracle of the sun witnessed by thousands.
Old-fashioned, reverent, basically faithful to the facts, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima never quite emerges from the shadow of the earlier, superior The Song of Bernadette, but it ups the ante with sterner opposition (militant Marxists rather than freethinking civil authorities) and a more dramatic climax.
In the crowd of TV documentaries on the life of Pope John Paul II, there is Witness to Hope, and there is everything else.
Not to be confused with the identically named 1984 Herbert Wise film starring Albert Finney, Pope John Paul II is the first — so far the only — dramatic presentation to do anything like justice to the life and reign of the 20th century’s most popular pope.
Pope John Paul II gets the A&E Biography treatment in Pope John Paul II — Statesman of Faith, a 50-minute documentary made in 1993 focusing particularly on the Holy Father’s crusades against totalitarianism and violence.
Without context or explanation, Lukaszewicz plunges the viewer into Faustina’s world, confronting us with with an early experience from Faustina’s childhood, challenging us to take this story on its own terms. It’s a surprisingly powerful approach, as transcendent in its own way as the restraint of Bresson or Dreyer.
Eschewing both the slickness and Hollywood sentiment of The Song of Bernadette and the speculative psychology of Alain Cavalier’s contemporary Thérèse, Delannoy’s unembellished, straightforward account seeks only to tell Bernadette’s story in a clear and compelling way.
How is it, then, that Cavani succeeds in making Francesco neither an attractive hero of secular virtues nor an off-putting champion of spiritual ones? How does she come to make her protagonist off-putting without being otherworldly, earthbound without being attractive? By what mysterious process has this vibrant human firebrand, this unpredictable, leaping, shouting zealot, been transformed into the sheepish, subdued, self-deprecating cipher we see here played by sighing, shyly grinning Mickey Rourke?
“Ordinary girl. Extraordinary soul” is the tagline of Thérèse, Catholic actor-director Leonardo Defilippis’s reverent, uplifting, straightforward biopic of the Little Flower. Of the tagline’s two clauses, the film’s special burden seems to be the first part, “ordinary girl.”
Rossellini doesn’t cater to contemporary sensibilities by reinventing Francis as a mere eccentric free spirit, a medieval flower child, such as we find in Zefferelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Francis remains challenging to modern audiences here, his childlike spirit joined to insistence on strict religious obligation and ultimately to zeal for evangelization.
Joan of Arc, the warrior-saint who wore men’s garb and was burned at the stake, would at first glance seem to be an odd role model for a girl whose greatest aspiration was to wear the habit of a cloistered nun and who died in the convent of tuberculosis.
Alain Cavalier’s stark, austere reflection on the mystery of the little saint of Lisieux’s romance with Jesus is a reverie rather than a meditation, built of fleeting minimalist vignettes, almost snapshots, glimpses of its subject rather than an integral portrait. There is no sense of judgment, of approval or disapproval of its subject’s life, or even, finally, of real understanding. His Thérèse is a riddle, and we must make of her what we can.
The film is more than a dramatization, more than a biopic, more than a documentary: It is a spiritual portrait, almost a mystical portrait, of a Christ-like soul sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
A native of Belgium, ordained in Honolulu, at the age of 33 Fr. Damien volunteered to become the first and only priest serving the leper colony. There he spent himself attending as best he could to the people’s needs, both spiritual and physical, offering the sacraments but also dressing wounds, helping to shelter them from the elements, even constructing coffins and digging graves.
The screenplay, well adapted by Robert Bolt from his own stage play, is fiercely intelligent, deeply affecting, resonant with verbal beauty and grace. Scofield, who for years starred in the stage play before making the film, gives an effortlessly rich and layered performance as Sir Thomas More, saint and martyr, the man whose determined silence spoke more forcefully than words, and who then spoke even more forcefully by breaking it.
Based on the historical novel by Jewish author Franz Werfel, the beloved classic The Song of Bernadette stands head and shoulders over most religiously themed fare from Hollywood’s golden age.
Monsieur Vincent, director Maurice Cloche’s beautifully crafted, award-winning biopic of St. Vincent de Paul, celebrates the saint’s single-minded devotion to the poor without romanticizing the objects of his devotion and recipients of his charity.
Peter O’Toole roars magnificently both in laughter and in rage; his Henry is a simple, direct, utterly unprincipled man who sees the world in two great categories: (a) things he wants, and (b) obstacles to getting them.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.