Saturday, February 26, 2011

kurosawa + truffaut | looking + seeing

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
Akira Kurosawa

I realize that it's presumptuous to write about a film one has only seen three times.
Francois Truffaut

Thanks, Andrew...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

feb 27 | doctor zhivago | cineplex classic films

Doctor Zhivago (1965)
"A Love Caught in the Fire of Revolution"
Directed by: David Lean
Cast: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness
Plot: Life of a Russian doctor/poet who, although married, falls for a political activist's wife and experiences hardships during the Bolshevik Revolution

Sunday, February 27, 12:30pm

Presented in HD. All tickets five dollars. SilverCity Riverport, SilverCity Coquitlam, Colossus Langley, Scotiabank Theatre. The Classic Film Series presents one great title each month on the big screen from September 2010 to August 2011: details here.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is available on DVD at Videomatica

Thursday, February 17, 2011

for the record | anthony lane on blue valentine

No particular Soul Food angle on the one. Just a superb review of one of my favourite recent films.

review by Anthony Lane | The New Yorker, January 3 2011

TThe first thing we see in “Blue Valentine” is a small girl, standing alone in the grass, crying out a name. It’s a simple sight, yet fraught with alarming possibility, and that goes for the rest of the movie. Here is the tale of a man and a woman falling in and out of love: something that happens every day, to millions of people, as if that were any consolation. “ ’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all,” Tennyson wrote, and instinct tells us to agree. But he was writing of bereavement—of a love cut off in its glory, through nobody’s fault. What if the love wizens and sours, through everyone’s fault, making the loss too bitter to endure? Who wouldn’t wonder, in a low moment, whether the whole damn thing was worth it, after all?

The girl is Frankie (Faith Wladyka), aged about five, the only child of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). Frankie is calling for their dog, which has run off, and Cindy’s search for the wanderer strikes the first note of desperation in the film, though hardly the last. When she arrives late for a school concert, her eyes are wet; the news is not good, and you want to know how Dean will break it to their daughter. “Maybe she moved out to Hollywood and became a movie dog,” he says to her, which is as good a working metaphor for death as I have heard. It’s also a hint of how closely Dean is tuned to Frankie—more closely, sometimes, than her mother is. Together, father and daughter lick the raisins from her oatmeal off the kitchen table (“We’re eating like leopards,” he explains), which shows what a kid he is himself, and what sort of laceration would result if they were parted.

As if in response to this worry, the movie then parts company with itself. One moment, we’re watching Frankie being dropped off with Cindy’s father (John Doman) for a sleepover. The next, we see Dean, looking spry and chipper, applying for a job with a firm of house movers. What’s happening? It takes a while to realize that this is a flashback, to the period before he and Cindy met—the era in which, like all lovers, they feel in retrospect that they were arrowing toward each other. But notice what Derek Cianfrance, the director and co-writer, does not do. He supplies no title saying “Five years earlier,” or whatever, and arranges no major shift in tone, aside from a slight cranking up of the colors. In other words, the past is not so different from the present, and what should be horribly confusing about “Blue Valentine” becomes its most rending aspect; namely, that as we swipe backward and forward through the rest of the film, we can’t always tell the now from the then. Given that one means rage, silence, and failed sex and the other meant a flurry of eagerness and lust, you would imagine the gulf to be unbridgeable; but it doesn’t look that way, and the bridging is the saddest thing of all.

Nothing out of the ordinary happens in “Blue Valentine,” and that, together with the vital, untrammelled performances of the two leading actors, is the root of its power. Dean and Cindy try to mend their marriage by taking a short, child-free, romantic break—a sure sign that the damage is now beyond repair. They go to a motel with a choice of fancy suites: Cupid’s Cove or the Future Room. They pick the latter, which, with its revolving bed and planetary décor, is a tacky, dated vision of a future that will never be. “Don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars,” Bette Davis said at the end of “Now, Voyager”; but she was eons away from the cratered desolation of these two, and she didn’t have a guy with smoke on his breath, arms covered in tattoos, and a head full of vodka trying to muscle her into submission on the floor. Not that the past was a paradise; when Cindy runs into an old boyfriend (Mike Vogel), we are spirited further back to the time when she got pregnant by him, with harrowing results. If you want to see an entire abortion debate dramatized in a few minutes, every angle is represented here, from the brutishness of the conception to the delicate courtesy of the doctor and the sudden, terrified realization of the woman that she cannot and must not withdraw her child from existence.

All of this demonstrates that “Blue Valentine” is that rare creation: a love story that doesn’t shy away from sex, ignore its consequences, or droop into pointless fantasy. The result is adult entertainment as it should be, in other words, right down to the laugh that Cindy lets out, in her leaping delight, when Dean goes down on her. Needless to say, the M.P.A.A., which cannot bear very much reality, took fright at all this and hobbled the movie with an NC-17 rating, which was overturned only after a concerted challenge. It is now an R-rated picture, and rightly so, although you have to ask: In what circumstances would you take a teen-ager, let alone a child, to see it? Who, on the verge of growing up, would wish to learn that the first heady bloom of rapture is doomed to rot and fall, and that even someone as devoted as Dean will wind up pleading to his paramour, with a kind of bullish grovel, “Tell me how I should be”?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

127 hours | 'very much a spiritual experience'

This Guardian article about the real-life Aron Ralston provides an interesting side-note to 127 Hours.

Where Ralston is radically different today, in the flesh, compared with his pre-accident self as portrayed by Franco in the film, is in his recognition that he depends on other people. The love of others, his relationships with his family and friends, kept him alive, he says now. "It was very much a spiritual experience and different from Joe Simpson in Touching The Void. That reinforced his agnosticism – 'I did this all on my own and God doesn't exist because if he did, he would've helped me out, that fucker.' For me it was to go through this and realise, well, God is love, and love is what kept me alive and that love is what got me out of there."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Watching for... DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (Whit Stillman)

"Whit Stillman's new 'college comedy' is called Damsels in Distress, has musical numbers, and stars Greta Gerwig. Shooting took place in New York in the fall of 2010." Film Comment, January-February 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

feb 25 - mar 3 | tokyo story | cinematheque

There's a brand new print of Ozu's masterful Tokyo Story at Pacific Cinematheque later this month. It is one of only forty films to have appeared on all four iterations of the Arts & Faith 100 list of "Spiritually Significant" motion pictures. Paul Schrader devotes considerable attention to the Japanese director in his book "Transcendental Style In Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer," and many consider Tokyo Story to be Ozu's finest work. My first introduction to the film was Roger Ebert's piece in his book "The Great Movies," and my first viewing was at the Cinematheque.

Pacific Cinematheque
Friday, February 25, 2011 - 6:30pm
Saturday, February 26, 2011 - 6:30pm
Saturday, February 26, 2011 - 9:00pm
Sunday, February 27, 2011 - 8:30pm
Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 8:30pm
Thursday, March 3, 2011 - 6:30pm

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

feb 16 & 27 | doctor zhivago | cineplex classic films

Doctor Zhivago (1965)
"A Love Caught in the Fire of Revolution"
Directed by: David Lean
Cast: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness
Plot: Life of a Russian doctor/poet who, although married, falls for a political activist's wife and experiences hardships during the Bolshevik Revolution

Wednesday, February 16, 6:30pm
Sunday, February 27, 12:30pm

Presented in HD. All tickets five dollars. SilverCity Riverport, SilverCity Coquitlam, Colossus Langley, Scotiabank Theatre. The Classic Film Series presents one great title each month on the big screen from September 2010 to August 2011: details here.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO is available on DVD at Videomatica

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Watching for... CORIOLANUS

Ralph Fiennes takes Coriolanus to Berlin film festival

Modern-day interpretation of 17th-century tale is sole British production in competition at Berlin film festival. Shot in Belgrade by cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, who last worked with Fiennes on the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker. Ralph Fiennes directs and stars, alongside Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave, Gerard Butler.

Watching for... THE BURIAL (Terrence Malick)

"Oklahoma native son Terrence Malick wrapped shooting on The Burial in hometown Bartlesville, Tulsa, and Pawhuska. Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko star as a 'loveless' couple, along with Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem (as a priest)." Film Comment, January-February 2011

"Set over a period of years, the film stars Affleck as Neil, a failed writer stuck in a loveless marriage with Marina (Kurylenko), whose expiring visa put pressure on Neil to propose. Both Neil and Marina seek guidance from Father Quintana (Bardem), a priest frustrated by his inability to live his own life because he’s too busy advising his parishioners on theirs." The Film Stage

Monday, February 07, 2011

TRUE GRIT | Cathleen Falsani

A look at True Grit, and thoughts about similarities between Rooster Cogburn and The Dude, led to Cathleen Falsani's essay on The Big Lebowski. Which in turn prompted a reply from godgrrl herself, and got me poking around her blog. She loves the Coen Brothers, so it's only natch she should have some interesting observations about True Grit. Full circle.
True Grit? True Grace.
by Cathleen Falsani (AKA godgrrl)
author of "The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers"

. . . While it most assuredly would be a leap of faith to claim that Ethan Coen’s 1979 college study of Wittgenstein directly shaped the making of True Grit, hints of the philosopher’s take on religiosity float through the stellar film like tumbleweeds. “If you and I are to live religious lives, it mustn’t be that we talk a lot about religion, but that our manner of life is different,” Wittgenstein said. “It is my belief that only if you try to be helpful to other people will you in the end find your way to God.”

In the worlds created over the last quarter century by the brothers Coen, clearly the greatest good and highest moral value is that of decency. Their heroes are never perfect, but they are deeply decent folk.

The moral anchor of True Grit and the character who embodies Wittgenstein’s idea of helping-your-way-to-God is 14-year-old Maddie Ross, the precociously pious, profoundly Protestant daughter seeking to avenge the murder of her father by the sociopathic simpleton Tom Chaney. Maddie’s faith and sense of right-and-wrong are reminiscent of the Coen’s spiritual heroine Marge Gunderson  in Fargo. Young Maddie is the epitome of unspoiled decency.

Like Marge, Maddie steps into the midst of mayhem with the force of a giant, her morality as simple as it is immovable, and sets about trying to reestablish order from chaos. She enlists the help of Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges)— a classic Coen antihero in the mold of Bridge’s indelible Dude character from their masterpiece, The Big Lebowski. . . .  Maddie has faith in the unlikely hero and his “true grit.” It’s more than a personality trait. With her simple yet epic faith, Maddie believes Cogburn is the man, no doubt sent by God, to help her achieve moral retribution for her father’s death.

Explicit religious and scripture references appear throughout True Grit as they have in past Coen films such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Barton Fink. Maddie quotes from the book of Psalms — Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will have no fear, for Thou art with me — an image that comes to fruition later in the film when she walks through a literal valley of death.  A soundtrack of traditional Protestant hymns, most notably “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” function as Maddie’s internal monologue (or, perhaps, her dialogue with God.)

While many will argue that God’s grace is notably absent elsewhere in the Coeniverse, it is powerfully present in True Grit. At the start of the film, Maddie says, with characteristic frankness, “There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.”

As the plot unfolds, it is precisely true grace — deserved by none yet given freely to each — and not “true grit” that makes all the difference.
This is edited from a longer essay posted at Cathleen Falsani's blog "The Dude Abides." Just so you know, I didn't provide elipses (those sets of three little dots) every place where I trimmed stuff out of Cathleen's original piece: this is a blog post, not a dissertation. But do read the full piece, and check out the rest of God Girl's site.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Not a Soul Food movie per se, just one I liked a lot. Story of John Lennon before he and his mates headed off for Hamburg. Very smart screenplay, deft and accurate Beatles references, with exceptional performances by Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff as John, Aunt Mimi and Julia respectively. Can't for the life of me figure why it didn't make more critics' lists. But it made mine, so that will have to do.

Movie City News: "I’m not instantly receptive to the idea of a film about John Lennon, tormented young artist and lone rebel with an acoustic guitar. Yeah yeah yeah… I thought John couldn’t make me smile in a movie theatre again, like I did when I was a teenager, watching A Hard Day’s Night for the first time. I should have known better."

faith at sundance | HIGHER GROUND, THE LEDGE

Disappointing to see that even the two most "faith-positive" films at Sundance still sound much closer to the skeptical than the affirming end of the spectrum. So many have reverted to the Bad Christian stereotypes that predominated 25 years ago, to judge by this article. The pendulum swings.

Higher Ground

Sundance Film Festival: Movies look at faith in all its forms
Salvation Boulevard, Red State, Higher Ground, The Ledge and Tyrannosaur 
show how religion helps and hurts
by John Horn, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Park City, Utah — — It takes a lot of faith to make an independent film. This year, independent films are showing a lot of faith.

Among the roughly 120 features playing at this year's Sundance Film Festival, a surprisingly large number use faith — and specifically Christianity — as either a critical narrative fulcrum or a key expositional backdrop. And the dramas do not always take a neutral stance.

Kevin Smith's gothic horror story Red State targets a violently homophobic pastor modeled on the real-life, gay-bashing Baptist Fred Phelps. George Ratliff's dark comedy Salvation Boulevard casts Pierce Brosnan as the charismatic head of a mega-church (he's loosely patterned after Australia's Brian Houston) who's hardly practicing what he preaches. And Irish actor Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur explores the futility of faith through the relationship between an embittered older man (Peter Mullan) and a woman working in charity thrift shop.

Yet two other features — Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground and Matthew Chapman's The Ledge — are not interested in using spirituality for satire or shock, instead looking at religion for a deeper dramatic purpose.

Festival director John Cooper said he was struck by how many submissions focused on faith, and he feels it's a reflection of filmmakers considering issues larger than themselves. "It's America looking at itself," Cooper says.

An actress best known for Up in the Air, Farmiga makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground, based on the memoir "This Dark World" by Carolyn Briggs. Farmiga also plays the lead role of Corinne, who has grown up in a Pentecostal church but feels like her life lacks a deeper purpose. "I feel like I live in an empty place," Corinne says at one point.

Farmiga says the film didn't have to be set in a church. What was important, she says, was that Corinne experience a crisis of faith. Having led an emotionally and intellectually sheltered life, Corinne eventually has a personal epiphany, and it's not necessarily her baptism.

"She is a seeker. She's got to find herself," Farmiga says of the film's central turn. "She's not trying to rid herself of faith. She's trying to rid herself of an impoverished faith — an impoverished faith in God, an impoverished faith in marriage."

Even though the small church that is central to Corinne's life is patriarchal and doesn't necessarily fulfill her spiritually, Farmiga is careful not to judge its members — and, by extension, other similar believers. "Some of these people believe they have the answers, and they do," Farmiga says. "And I hope audiences will be refreshed to see Christians depicted in a fully developed, sexualized way — not just with Sunday school values."

The Ledge
Some of those values — including a very rigid reading of the Bible — shape Chapman's The Ledge, which is outwardly a ticking-clock thriller about a man poised to jump to his death and inwardly a debate about how faith and forgiveness can shape personal relationships.

Patrick Wilson plays Joe, the rigid, scripture-quoting husband of Shauna (Liv Tyler), whose affair with a hotel manager named Gavin (Charlie Hunnam) leads to a potentially deadly showdown. The film suggests that even though Gavin is the obvious spiritual apostate, his convictions and behavior might actually be more selfless.

"The film examines two men who have both suffered tragedies and reacted in very different ways," Chapman says. "One has turned to faith," he says of Joe, "and one has turned to humanism," he adds of Gavin, whose beliefs closely mirror the director's.

Chapman hopes moviegoers will see The Ledge not only as an entertaining parable about "the consequences of a too-literal interpretation of religious texts" but also view Joe with understanding rather than judgment. If The Ledge — which was bought by IFC Films — succeeds as Chapman intends, audience members might have the same kind of spiritual discussions as they leave the theater as Joe and Gavin have in the film. "I would like it to provoke a debate," Chapman says. "I think the big question is, What price can somebody pay for faith?"

The price of faith in Ratliff's Salvation Boulevard can be high, even in the film's comic setting. Brosnan plays televangelist Dan Day, and among his followers are Carl and Gwen Vanderveer (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly), whose devotion to their pastor (and each other) is tested after a gun accident. The film is very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Larry Beinhart.

Ratliff says he grew up in an Amarillo, Texas, evangelical movement, but left the church as a teenager, and considers religion "basically superstitious." Religious convictions, particularly in a mega-church led by a charismatic preacher, are a perfect milieu for satire, he thinks. "I felt I had to explore it — there's some great comedy there, there's some great drama there," Ratliff says. "It's really using religion for a character story."

He says that because "so much of all religion is about giving yourself over," he could use Salvation Boulevard as a vehicle to explore the collision between skepticism and devotion. "The Dan Days of the world really have the ace up their sleeves when they say, 'Believe and be satisfied.'" Even if Carl's faith begins to waver, he ends up being more of a spiritual rock — and Christ-like — than his minister.

Considine's Tyrannosaur is unafraid to show that although religion may serve as a lifeline to some, it can't always save people in a difficult marriage or with other troubles, and may in fact distract the afflicted from more pragmatic solutions.

"I wasn't trying to make a statement," Considine says. "But I do think too many people are worried about an existential thought instead of the here and now. They're thinking 'What do I do to get into heaven?' instead of asking, 'What can I do to make my life better with my fellow man?'"

Considine said his skepticism for religion grew out of watching people exploit his mother's deep religious faith as she lay dying. "The idea that we're all worried about an existential eye watching our every move is a real problem," he says. "It makes us think about things that aren't important."

Friday, February 04, 2011


Here's a quirky piece I stumbled upon when scanning the internet a year ago, looking for "Best Of The Decade" reflections. It raises the question, if not in so many words - are Thandie Newton, Rocky Balboa, James Bond and Phillip Marlowe also numbered among the lamed vovnik?
The Movies That Changed My Life:
A Film Geek's Retrospect on Cinematic Paradigm Shifts
by Matthew K
Best Of The Decade #7: The Passion Of The Christ
Dec 18, 2009

Currently, Michael Phillips and A. O. Scott of At the Movies are each counting down their lists of the best films of the decade. For the rest of the month, I will be offering my own lists, not only my 10 "best" list but also my 10 "worst" list as well. As criteria for both lists is hard, I have decided to base my film choices on personal experience: My "best" films are those that lingered with me for weeks after I saw them, and my "worst" films are those that pissed me off the most.

Counting them down in chronological order of release dates, we continue with #7 on my "best" list:

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
directed by Mel Gibson

Step away from all the external drama surrounding The Passion of the Christ: The accusations of anti-Semitism; the controversy of the violence; Mel Gibson's erratic and un-Christian behavior some months after the film's release; Gibson's divorce of his wife Robin, mother of his massive brood of kids, and subsequent impregnation of a starlet/model young enough to be his daughter.

Step away, too, from your core belief system if you will. This I address to the agnostics, the people of Jewish descent, and the hard-line Christians quick to point out Biblical inaccuracies in the film.

Simply take a moment to judge The Passion of the Christ on its merits as a film. Look at all the elements that come together to make it so effective--the performances of the actors; the exquisite cinematography; the realistic effects; and ultimately, the way Gibson structures this chapter in the life of Christ.

By now, most of you know what the movie is about. Christ's Passion, which means His suffering, is reenacted in a series of movements meant to reflect the various Stations of the Cross in the Catholic faith (and feel free to correct me here; I'm not Catholic and am going solely on memory of a conversation with a Catholic friend several years ago). Much is made about the violence, the gruesome depiction of Christ's flogging and crucifixion, and there are moments in the film that are difficult to watch. And yet rather than coming off as a two-hour torture porn with a message, Gibson manages to create a sense of dramatic urgency by making Satan a key figure in the piece.

The only way to really explain why I liked this film is to look at it from a Christian perspective. For those who don't believe in the Christian doctrine, I respect your position, but without some background in the film's theology it is impossible to appreciate the film's narrative craft.

Simply put: The Christian faith believes that Christ was the Son of God, in essence the physical manifestation of God Himself, and that he came to our physical plane of existence to suffer and die for the sins of mankind. An analogy I have used to explain it to people is the scene in Mission: Impossible II when Thandie Newton takes the last syringe of a deadly virus with the potential to kill millions and injects it into herself; she sacrifices herself to save humanity. Likewise, it is as if God became man to "inject" Himself with a "syringe" filled with all of man's sins and then allow Himself to be brutally tortured to death as atonement for those sins.

Digressing: There is a story of a Roman general who was captured by the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars. He is told by his captors that he can be released to return to Rome if he gives his word that he will persuade the Roman Senate to come with a peace treaty to end Rome's war with Carthage. The general vows that he will do just that, and if he fails to persuade the Senate to draw up a treaty, then he will return to Carthage to be tortured to death. As the legend goes, the General returns to Rome and says, in essence: "Do not make peace with Carthage! They are at the end of their rope and will not resist for much longer!" He then returns to Carthage, being a man of his word, and allows himself to be tortured to death.

This story, set up as an example of Roman pride and integrity, gives us some idea of what the Christians believe about Christ. In Milton, there is a scene where man has fallen from Grace, and God tells his angels that as man is now living in sin he is unfit to be in God's presence. God says the only way to save man is if one of His angels will go to earth to take on man's sins and then die to give man salvation. None of the angels volunteer, so God's only Sons steps up to the plate and says, "I'll do it!"

Remove all the dogma, the judgmental finger-wagging of some Christians, and the tired cliches, and the legend of Christ is pretty exciting stuff. Christ in Milton is an entity of great courage and honor, and combine that picture with that of the Christ in Gibson's film being broken on the Cross and you come away with something moving and impressive.

And then there is Satan, played by the creepy-looking Rosalinda Celentano in the film. Satan's role in this film is what the Christian's believe his role is in the lives of men. Basically, Satan hovers over Christ, whispering lies into his ears, telling him he is not strong enough, that his sacrifice won't matter, that the sins of mankind are too much to bear.

One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Christ is praying in the Garden of Gethsemene and Satan stands above Him, taunting and tormenting with his foul words. Finally, Christ rises to his feet, exhausted, literally sweating blood, and looks Satan in the eye. James Caviezel, who plays Christ, displays a masterful sense of subtlety, gazing at Satan with an expression of both recognition and disgust. He is like a tired prizefighter, battered but not beaten, and his eyes seem to say, "Okay, buddy, let's dance." It's Stallone in the original Rocky, dragging himself to his feet to keep fighting when Apollo Creed is celebrating what he thinks is a victory. Thrilling stuff.

There are other moments too, of course. The most mentioned scene by the film's many critics is when Christ is carrying the cross to Golgotha, and his mother, Mary, sees him stumble and fall. At once, Mary has a flashback to when he was a child, stumbling and falling, and her maternal instinct kicks in as she goes to him. This scene gets most people, especially parents, weepy-eyed. It doesn't affect me so much until the scene's denouement, when Jesus looks at Mary, his face a rictus of agony, his body twisted and bloody, and says, "See, mother? I make all things new." I don't know about you, but that line elicits the same kind of emotion as when James Bond mocks his torturer in Casino Royale.

There are some Christians who complain about the film's ending. After two hours of watching this grueling and tortuous death, the Resurrection of Christ is covered in the span of 30 seconds. Why? these Christians wonder. Isn't the most important part of the story the fact that Christ conquered death?

I, on the other hand, like the succinct treatment of the Resurrection. I am reminded of the ending of The Long Goodbye, starring Elliot Gould as Phillip Marlowe. Throughout the entire film, Marlowe is depicted as a bumbling idiot, a rumpled, mistake-prone, frightened little man trying to solve a murder but clearly way out of his league. But in the film's final frame, when Marlowe tracks down and confronts the killer, he suddenly shows focus and nerves of steel. Marlowe was strong all along, you see, and he always had the essential tools to play with the big boys. But he was acting dumb, coming off as weak and unthreatening, so people would let their guard down, make a mistake, and lead him to clues that will help him solve the case.

Likewise, The Passion of the Christ is so elegantly handled that Christ comes off as a helpless, weak little man. Even though I went in knowing the story and believing in the Divinity of Christ, in the context of the film I found myself sensing what the people watching his crucifixion must have felt: The man looked like a nothing, a nobody. Surely, someone this meek and lowly could not be the Son of God.

But at the end of the film, when the stone of the tomb is rolled back and the once-broken Christ stands in the light, fully restored, I had a revelation. Christ was not a weak little man. Like Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, He was strong. In fact, because we see that He has the power to conquer death, we realize that during His entire torture and crucifixion he had the power to stop His suffering at any time He chose.

And yet He did not. He allowed Himself to be tortured. He allowed Himself to seem weak. Not to demean the faith, but this also reminded me of the episode of Happy Days, when Fonzie let a lesser man bully him because he wanted the man to seem a hero in his son's eyes. Christ let lesser men abuse Him, torture Him, kill Him. He could have stopped it, and yet He did not.Why would anyone allow such a thing?

This, I think, is the real core of the Christian faith, something that many followers of Christ do not contemplate enough. And when you see it on film, as vivid and realistic as it can possibly be, the message is all brought home to you. I can't watch the film without shaking. My faith may waver, my mind may be filled with doubt, but I watch this film, and it reminds me of the very core of the faith. The Christians believe someone willingly suffered in their place--someone powerful enough to avoid that suffering if He so chose.

What could be more beautiful than that?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Feb 21 | FALLEN ANGEL screening

The Larry Norman documentary Fallen Angel will be screening Feb 21 at Grace Point Church in Surrey, with live music by Randy Stonehill and a Q&A with director David DiSabatino.


The Dude Abides: Cathleen Falsani on THE BIG LEBOWSKI

Jeff Bridges is a marvel in True Grit, the Coen Brothers latest - which as Steven Gredanus points out comes with a surprising percentage of your RDA of Bible and other essential soul nutrients. Mr Bridges' work in turn has more than a trace of Dude in it, which is all to the good. Which in turn puts Soul Foodies everywhere in mind of this fascinating piece by San Diego religion writer Cathleen Falsani, as she gives voice to the question on every heart as we approach Oscar season: "Is The Dude a lamed vovnik?"

The Dude Abides

I suppose the Falsani article is a stretch. (You did read it, didn't you? Do so. Now. Links are for clicking, not for skipping. Bad reader.) But I like her style. And I'm inclined to give the piece more cred than I might have expected to, at least partly because that very question has been on my mind since reading a piece by Kate Bowman about seven years ago. Her Lebowski reference left me puzzled. Now it's making more sense.
If I cannot see evidence of incarnation in a painting of a bridge in the rain by Hokusai, a book by Chaim Potok or Isaac Bashevis Singer, in music by Bloch or Bernstein, then I will miss its significance in an Annunciation by Franciabigio, the final chorus of the St. Matthew Passion, the words of a sermon by John Donne.

If we are unable to see hints of incarnation in Lars Von Trier's BREAKING THE WAVES, Sofia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION, the Coen Brothers' BIG LEBOWSKI, P.T. Anderson's MAGNOLIA — we are likely to miss the truth in Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. 

- Kate Bowman, Overcome With Passion, Christianity Today Movies
And, heading down yet another link-strewn path, since the controversies surrounding poor Mr Gibson have caused so many to lose track of whatever truths they may have been likely to miss in his Passion  movie in the first place, tomorrow I'll offer up something I found online that refreshed my palate for that film as well.

Now onscreen... THE WAY BACK (Peter Weir)

Peter Weir is one of my great favourite directors. The Year Of Living Dangerously is a Top Twenty film for me and, along with The Last Wave, Fearless, Witness and even The Truman Show, straight up Soul Food (at least to this viewer). Dead Poets Society and Master And Commander both claim legions of fans, Gallipoli was a favourite of mine on first viewing but hasn't aged as well for me, and Picnic At Hanging Rock is maybe even a masterpiece,a singular poetic evocation of spiritual Mysteries.

After a seven year absence, Weir returns with The Way Back, a wartime drama about a group of Siberian gulag escapees making their way to freedom in Tibet. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and is slated for release January 21, 2011. Cast includes Colin Farrell (In Bruges, The New World, Phone Booth), Ed Harris (The Truman Show, Appallosa, Gone Baby Gone, A History Of Violence, Pollock, The Right Stuff), Jim Sturgess (Across The Universe) and Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones).

Virtually all of Wier's films are available by mail or in person at Videomatica.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Watching for... LOURDES (2009, Austria/France/Germany)

"What is healing? Who is worthy of it, and why? Do miracles still happen outside of anomalies in science and nature? Does God exist, favoring one physical location? Can we verify the authenticity of those who claim He's brought a miracle, and do miracles only happen in that one physical place? Lourdes tackles all the tough questions, and breaks through with such a restrained, feminine touch that metaphysical questions like this lead less to anger than to a gentle, tender probing. A nuanced performance by Sylvie Testud as wheelchair-bound Chrstine on pilgrimage and a dip into sacred territory by writer/director Jessica Hausner make this examination of devotion to faith a noticeable standout as one of the year's best films. The intersection between science and religion has made its way into film since Frankenstein (1931), and at the end of Lourdes we're still trying to figure out whether God is the benevolent healer, or a monster in the heavens watching nature play its cruel tricks." Filmsweep

"Jessica Hausner’s new film Lourdes may be the most mysterious film screened at this year’s Toronto film festival, one that takes a story of religious and spiritual import and casts that world and those themes down a gauntlet that suggests Hitchcock and Tati in its supremely calibrated conceptual suspense and encircling humor. The story finds a wheelchair-bound Sylvie Testud, whose character is suffering from multiple-sclerosis, traveling with a group of pilgrims to the French town of Lourdes. We hear tales of miracles, and Hausner’s restrained and stripped down aesthetic—touch points being Kaurismaki, Haneke, Roy Andersson and Eugène Green—in collaboration with its subject resembles the mise-en-scène of films that attempt to evoke a hushed world investigating if not conjuring the spiritual. Yet the tone of Lourdes is forever uncertain, or perhaps indescribable; that is, Hausner is certain of the tone she is creating but the result is ambiguous. . . .
"The structuring principle of the film, derived from Hitchcock, is to conceptualize a situation pregnant with constant audience expectation. Nearly from the first scenes we are introduced to a film world that suggests a miracle is coming, and throughout Hausner’s mix of process, drama, and even a degree of restrained documentary on the sites, rituals, and pilgrims of Lourdes, we sit awaiting a manifest revelation for Sylvie Testud. When it comes, Lourdes then cannily plays the opposite game; whereas in the first half we avidly wait for something special to happen, in the second half we wait with perhaps greater baited breath for that thing to be taken away. . . .
"Expectation positive and negative, then, thoroughly pervades the film, an expectation for the kind of event that in a film by Bresson, Tarkovsky, or Dumont might be more clear cut but in Lourdes takes on this odd, calculated tone of humor, sincerity, longing, cynicism, and melancholy. . . .
"LOURDES doesn’t appear programmatic and out to prove something. What it is out for may be a mystery, but its beautiful pictorial precision, hushed weirdness, and human anchoring by the silent movie captivating power of Sylvie Testud (were she alive in the 1920s she would be a global superstar) makes for a strangely beguiling, austere experience of suspense, spirit, and comedy."
Daniel Kasman,

"Jessica Hausner's LOURDES demonstrates that moral values are mutable even within the parameters of religious faith. The film centers on wheelchair-bound Christine (Sylvie Tstudi), who suffers from multiple sclerosis and takes part in pilgrimages for secular reasons - travel and socializing - under the care of Order of Malta officers and volunteers. One morning, she finds she is able to move her hand. . . ."
Nicole Armour reporting on the Toronto International Film Festival
Film Comment, November-December 2009

Winner: Vienna Film Prize, best film at the Viennale, Nov 2009

Watching for... FORBIDDEN FRUIT (2009, Finland/Sweden)

This one is new to me. An Arts & Faith buddy who goes by the screen name "Persona" (must love Bergman) (which sounds like highbrow sequel to Must Love Dogs) lists this as his #2 film of 2010 on his Filmsweep blog. Also talks about Lourdes in the same post.

Forbidden Fruit ("Kielletty hedelmä" 2009, Finland, Dome Karukoski)
This is a somewhat restrained coming of age story centered on Finland's Laestadian (Lutheran) sect, a faith-based community of Biblical literalism, and 18 year-old Maria, now old enough to decide for herself whether she'll remain in the community she grew up in or move to the city to live. While she's been taught to believe in the God-based, family values at the heart of the communal focus, a move to the city represents temptations from the "Arch Fiend," in boyfriends, drinking and dancing. Maria's friend is sent to track her down and guide her through this transitional phase, and most of all to call her to her roots, to urge her to come back home, to give up the city and its allure. But the film explores more than just themes of body/spirit or country/city temptations. The idea is that a friend will follow you anywhere, even to the heart of a strange city you can't possibly know how to deal with -- that your friend is one who will struggle with you, that she'll aid you in the hard times -- and that quite possibly the two of you will both change in unexpected ways because of what you've been through together. The strict religious ideals and how the two girls learn of its value make this an easy pick for my Top 10 this year. It's a heartwarming tale, but ends on a note that is... well, it's complicated. But I've a feeling that no matter what approach the two girls take to daily living, they won't be separated from a faith that is more resilient than anyone thought. This is a beautiful, quiet, carefully crafted film, rich with longing, friendship and spirituality. I honestly can't wait to see it again.