Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Menocchio 2018 *** Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Alberto Fasulo | Drama | Italy | 103′

Alberto Fasulo’s lavishly mounted imagined drama, having its premiere here at Locarno Film Festival, examines the ethical and moral issues surrounding the purported heresy of Domenico Scandella (1532–1599), also known as Menocchio, a miller from Montereale, Italy, who in the 16th century was tried by the Inquisition for his unorthodox religious views, and burnt at the stake.

Fasulo won the top prize at Rome 2013 with Tir. This, his fourth film is a costumed period piece that plays out from the POV of the inquisition’s interrogator as he encourages Scandella’s friends and associates to denounce the honest miller. Fasulo invites us into a God-fearing world where the close-knit community are dominated by the Catholic Church and potently in thrall to their religious convictions.

This exquisitely-crafted arthouse has the look and gravitas of the films of Italian masters such as Olmi or even the Taviani brothers. Each frame is elegantly composed telling the simple chronological storyline. Much of action takes place in the cloistered candlelit confinement of the ancient prison where Menocchio, his draw expression captured in the flickering candlelight, is interrogated about his views and beliefs that question the virgin birth. And Menocchio repeatedly sticks to his principles refusing to ask for forgiveness or change his mind, knowing full well that fatal punishment awaits him. These scenes contrast with the fresh and summery outdoors of the Friuli region were his associates are put to the test, some of the speaking in the region’s dialect.

Performed by a cast of mostly non-professional actors Menocchio is a quality drama that while shedding light on a little-known episode in history really needed the charismatic charge of a well-known actor to raise its worthwhile subject matter. MT.



The Apparition (2018) ***

Dir.: Xavier Giannoli; Cast: Vincent Lindon, Galatea Bellugi, Patrick d’Assumcao, Anatole Taubman; France 2018, 144 min.

In his follow-up to Marguerite, Xavier Giannoli again bites off rather more than he can chew: The Apparition is a mixture of Dan Brown and the eternal question of God’s existence, played out against a backdrop of European cities and war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East.

Pretentiously divided into chapters, it stars Vincent Lindon as traumatised war reporter Jacques who develops hearing difficulties and loses his best friend, a photographer, during an assignment somewhere in the Middle East.

On his return to Paris, Jacques is asked to investigate an apparition in the Carbarat region of France where 18-year old Anna (Bellugi) claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. The sighting has given rise to a cult and Jacques decides to form a committee to question Anna, who has lived most of her life in foster families. Father Borrodine (d’ Assumacao) seems to profit most from the cult, which is commercially exploited by Anton (Taubman), a Christian version of an advertising guru. 

Suddenly the narrative changes course radically, Jacques morphing into a sleuth to find out more about Anna’s past and unearthing a murder and letters to her from a refugee camp in Africa. The icon discovered by his dead friend makes a reappearance. Although the mystery surrounding the apparition seems to have been cleared up, Anna is nevertheless in danger, having discovered too much. Sadly, the audience is still in the dark with too many questions unanswered, and even the overgenerous running time does not allow for the plot-lines to gel.

DoP Eric Gautier’s widescreen shots would do any travel advert proud, but like the script, everything feels rather formulaic. Arvi Part (one of four composers) gives this hybrid travelogue just the right blend of quasi-religious background music for the decent but sprawling religious crime drama. AS


First Reformed (2017)***** | Sundance London

Dir: Paul Schrader | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried | US | Thriller | 108′

Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED is a sleek and elegant beast; economical, eco-themed and uncompromising yet firing on all cylinders, powered by Ethan Hawke as an anguished Christian minister fraught with spiritual and existential thoughtfulness.

The film’s richly textured themes of religious tradition, radicalisation and global warming underpin a graceful story of faith, hope, despair and finally love, redeeming all. And we wrestle and ruminate with Hawke on his personal journey from a sombre starting point to a place of peace in a rich character study that sees Schrader back on form after his ill-advised experiments with The Canyons and Dog Eat Dog.

Hawke is Toller, a sorrowing military chaplain whose marriage has failed due to the death of his son. In a white wooden-clad church in upstate New York, he has a new start in life leading a congregation that includes Mary (Seyfried), a pregnant woman who seeks his moral support over her activist husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). It soon emerges that Michael wants to get rid of their child due to his disenchantment with the corporate world he holds responsible for climate change and pollution.

There are comparisons here with Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver and Light Sleeper which also explore despair and disenchantment, although Toller is a much more down to earth decent character than John LeTour (Defoe) and Travis Bickle (De Niro) from the outset, and only seems to lose his sense of direction when his health deteriorates, and cancer becomes a possibility, leading him into a dark place of soul-searching made blacker by a tragedy involving Mary and Michael.

Toller also becomes convinced that a local businessman, sponsoring the church renovations, is actually responsible for environmental pollution on a large scale, and this presents a moral dilemma that further challenges the minster’s troubled state of mind. As the film slides between reality and somewhere more sinister. he desperately tries to lead his followers maintaining respect, compassion and dignity. Seyfried plays Mary as an open and honest woman whose motivations at first seem enigmatic but soon become clear as the two share a mutual sense of desperation and denial. There are strong performances also from Cedric the Entertainer, as a Toller’s ecclesiastical mentor and Esther, a fellow pastor who falls foul of Toller, despite her best intentions, inspiring one of the film’s most killer lines: ” I despise you: you bring out the worst in me”. MT


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