Religion Goes to the Movies

During the recent New York Film Festival, I had the pleasure of sitting through a cornucopia of films. Here are just a few that caught my eye.

Antichrist might have garnered the most buzz following its premiere at Cannes but as I explore in Killing the Buddha, the film drew me in only to spit me out towards the end. S. Brent plate’s analysis of this film here and here provides additional food for thought for those contemplating whether this is a journey they wish to travel.

The Art of the Steal chronicles the complex battle to determine who will control the vast post-Impressionist and early Modern art collection collected by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who established The Barnes Foundation as an educational institution. Upon his death, debates began surrounding who should control this art currently valued at $25 billion dollars. More than fifty years later, the ensuing court battle pits idealists against monied interests in a move that some will interpret as David versus Goliath while others will view as facing the realities of the problems all nonprofits face trying to fundraise during these turbulent times.

Lebanon reminded me of Waltz with Bashir, an animated film I saw at last year’s film festival that also dealt with the 1982 Lebanon War. As I reported on the God’s Politics blog, in Waltz with Bashir, through this film’s dark rich brown and orange hues and haunting score, I could feel beyond my bones the aching sadness of what both sides lose every time we go to war. I couldn’t get to that level of knowing sitting in a tank and seeing the horrors unfold before my eyes. Having said that, a few times during Lebanon the director took me to that place where I could almost taste and smell the carnage around me. At those moments, I felt an odd sympathy toward these men, as I felt an inkling of what it might be like to have been drafted instead going off to college.

Precious may suffer at Oscar time due to a perceived backlash from being promoted by Oprah; and to be honest, I have been skeptical of her post-Frey picks. But director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher brought Sapphire’s novel Push to light by capturing the essence of Precious’ hell without forcing the audience to endure a blow-by-blow account of the horrors. Her transformation from an abused illiterate teen mother living with her monster of a mother to a woman able to find her own voice follows a crooked path that manages to avoid the stereotypical Hollywood feel-good clichéd endings.

Wild Grass, the latest Alain Resnais film, explores the unexpected that can happen between an elderly happily married househusband and a single dentist with a flying license when the dentist loses her wallet. Through their awkward exchanges and miscommunications, they end up stepping on each other’s toes until they find the faith to finally dance together. In a comic and at times loopy style, Resnais paints a poignant and comedic look at the difficulties faced when one tries to live one’s life to the fullest. Do we have the faith to move forward despite our fears?

While I wasn’t planning on attending the New York Independent Film & Video Festival, I stopped by briefly to attend a screening of Take it Jeasy!. In this documentary film director Tereza Nvotova revisits the “School of Tomorrow,” a bilingual school that also taught children a form of Christianity espoused by the Word of Faith movement centered in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her mother sent her to learn English but removed her once she realized how the religious instruction was impacting her daughter. Through interviews with Nvotova’s former classmates and teacher, the viewer is offered a chilling insight into the global impact of how this fear based teaching manipulates a group of people searching for meaning in a post-Communist country. Check the website for screenings.

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