Sunday, January 25, 2015

La Vita: È Dolce?

Toni Servillo. Photo courtesy of The Great Beauty press kit,

This weekend has given me three foreign films about life. Very apt for me at the moment. All three have given me pause to reflect.

The first was The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), a film by Paolo Sorrentino which won a gazillion awards, including a 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. The soundtrack (available in Canada under the Italian title) includes wrenching music like Zbigniew Preisner's requiem and Arvo Pärt's 'My Heart's in the Highlands'Anyway, this is best described as something you'd see if Wes Anderson re-did La Dolce Vita. It's funny, pathetic and scathing (mostly about the Catholic Church but no one is safe from the writers: botox users, performance artists, mafia, strippers, wannabe actors). There are over-the-top parties where everyone dances to house music and 'Mueve La Colita' (think rude version of the 'Macarena'). There are outrageously huge terraced penthouses within reaching distance of the Colosseum and rooms fit for museums, sparsely decorated with important art. And there are sad people, accepting their fate and success (or lack thereof). The character of wisdom here is portrayed by a little person, actress Giovanna Vignola, who delivers one of the wryer life perspectives in the film: that a soup and a shag are recommended as solace each evening because they are both hot. So this film is about being honest with oneself that life is painful, partying or no partying.

The next was a pseudo-comedy--I don't normally enjoy comedy but this was cleverly interspersed with enough pathos that I didn't laugh too much, thank god. L'Italien follows an Algerian-French Muslim who poses as an Italian, working as a Maserati salesman and conning everyone in his life (except his best friend) that he is Italian. But then Ramadan arrives and he has to read Islam for Dummies.... The moral of the story is "To thine own self be true" (Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3) or 'Life is too short to be spent in dishonesty/everything comes back to bite you in the ass' (V.Wells, today).

Finally there is Elle S'en Va (On My Way) with Catherine Deneuve, who apparently embraced her middle age curves but not her wrinkles, the latter of which is unfortunate. Dubbed by many a 'road trip' slash 'finding yourself at 60' flick, it suffers from some cases of weak character development, but it does have some good casting and (non-)directing: the kid's acting out in the backseat of the car (carried out by Nemo Schiffman) and the part with Deneuve and Pappy Cigarette, portrayed by apparent non-actor Pierre Toulgoat in a largely ad-libbed and poignant scene. (The internet describes him as a 'farmer and actor' but I believe the former is his day job.) The movie is not great, but it touches on many of the themes of later life. One of the many scenes of Deneuve driving on rural roads with the late afternoon sun kissing her blonde hair blowing in the breeze from the open window (.........)(that's eye-rolling in the previous parentheses: All right already, Emmanuelle Bercot, we get that it's a road trip movie...) is accompanied by a sweet song, 'This Love Affair', by Rufus Wainwright: that part I liked. 

So, mid-life ruminations, acting out and the journeys of life. I'll be touching on all of these films' points as I add thoughts, photos and maps to my Google+ travelogue in a few weeks when I embark on a genealogical pilgrimage to Britain and my post-Latin-teacher-career-yet-first-time-visit to Rome. Oh, the irony.


NB: For a really good Finding Yourself (at any age)/road trip movie, see Nebraska starring Bruce Dern. Outstanding film and cast.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One Quarter

One of my favourite films is Jesus Christ Superstar. I can watch it over and over. I like a lot of Biblical movies. But The Gospel of John has me excited in a number of ways.
If I told you it was performed in Aramaic with the entire gospel read overtop it, would you want to run for the hills? Don't. This is a beautiful film, and the narration goes by quickly.
The Gospel of John is available with reading in Spanish or in English with either the NIV or the KJV text. The cinematography is very beautiful, and that, together with the score, makes it arresting to watch. Filmed in Morocco and just released in December, this is one of the connected four gospel versions to come out in 2014-2015. Unfortunately, I don't see the 2014 Matthew version on Netflix yet, where I found this, so I can't draw a comparison, but I can't wait: Matthew is my favourite account of the life of Jesus. So this film surprised me because I have always found John's a bit cerebral for me.
Most interesting is that this Jesus is not an in-the-Sears-portrait-studio Jesus. In fact he and the other characters are played by people who are perhaps a little more ethnically accurate than most Bible movie people. (See for background on the Shakespearean actor Selva Rasalingam in the main role.) I like the acting: he has conviction and is sometimes pissed off and is not Holman-Hunt-meek very often. Well, okay, except for the Good Shepherd part--then he looks as nice as the Jesus you prayed to as a kid. I wondered if director David Batty was a fan of Mel Gibson's The Passion: he sort of starts to go there but then holds back.
There are a few anachronisms that bugged me, but I'll bite my tongue about them as they're pretty minor.
One of the most affecting moments is his baptism by John. It's hard not to be hokey with that scene, but Rasalingam's hand gesture is breathtaking and totally makes what could have easily become a church bulletin or colouring book moment. The Romans' crucifixion is another scene fraught with the possibility of stereotypically boring recreation. Look at the treatment here--it's like 300 in its blood-flinging violence, although probably better to watch on film than just see in a still:

I hope Netflix picks up the other versions. I love where film is going these days (such as the wildly successful experiment of Boyhood) and I'll be fascinated to see how Matthew, Mark and Luke compare and contrast.

The Shocking CBC

Forget Jian Ghomeshi. CBC Radio One has me reeling this weekend. Yesterday, Sook-Yin Lee was covering the topic of pilgrimage on Definitely Not the Opera, and today on Tapestry, they've crossed the predictable line and were talking about spirituality and film. (Finally. The best course instructor I had in my Masters taught film and theology--yes, you, Adelmo Dunghe, SJ!) You can hear the podcasts at DNTO and Tapestry.

Lights, Camera, Religion!

Photo Credit: Jessica Diamond
Season 20: Episode 18
Can Saturday night at the movies remind you of Sunday morning at church or Friday night at temple? Sure thing, if you see Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull a passion play and the goofy comedy Groundhog Day as a deeply religious film. In this episode, we explore the movie theatre as a place of worship.
When you go to the movies, are you tapping into some kind of religious experience? Our guests tackles that question. John Lyden is the editor of The Journal of Religion and FilmGeoff Pevere is a writer and critic in Toronto.
John and Geoff see spirituality in these classics:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show 
Grounhog Day
The Star Wars Trilogy
The world of Star Trek 

Review of a New Version of the Bible

ISBN: 9781401675141

I had been looking for an updated, both-testament version of a Bible I have had for years: the Thomas Nelson Word in Life Study Bible. Then I found one, but was quickly put off when I read a review on that said that The Modern Life Study Bible was just a repackaging of the earlier one. I took a leap of faith and bought it anyway because other reviewers were describing something much broader. It did not disappoint. Not only have the editors dispensed with the (frankly) lame line drawings of people and the simplistic maps, but the resources are myriad and excellent. Its themed sidebars are useful and current, the maps are topographical and clear, key verses are listed and summaries provided at the start of each book, and better and more biographies of relevant people are included. The preface also better addresses translation issues and editorial style choices used in this version. The appendices are expanded, and the typesetting and overall design is much cleaner. The editors even explain the use of italicized vs. oblique words: the former used for words needing some translation allowances and the latter for NT passages seen in the OT. I recommend The Modern Life Study Bible: God's Word for Our World (NKJV). And no, I am not being paid to do this review. (Can you picture the winky face accompanying that sentence?) I just felt led to share a good thing.
A suggestion to all Bible publishers, however: for those of us with terrible memories for the exact order of 66 serial items, could someone PLEASE print the list of the OT and NT books and their page numbers on in the inside of the front and back covers?

A December Post That is for Every Month

I found this lovely posting that was both personally relevant and in fact timeless. How many times I have felt these things in church--and in fact in most public places! The problem of invisible disability is frustrating, to say the least. We don't want to bring it up because people feel they have the right to ask us personal questions and then offer up their own experiences of pain and worst of all their suggestions for cure or symptom management. I have given up sharing it with new acquaintances and play it down with old ones. It's just too painful to try to get understanding. I salute Kit Watson for her contribution:

22nd December - The chronically ill

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30
You probably know several people who have invisible disabilities. Perhaps they struggle with dyslexia, fatigue or chronic pain. Perhaps they have Crohn's disease or other problems with their bowels. Perhaps they have another problem that you didn't realise when you first met them.
While churches are generally welcoming and helpful, they can sometimes be difficult places for those of us with invisible disabilities, especially because we are often reluctant to ask for help.
Some things to consider that may make life easier for us:
  • Some people struggle to physically get to church, or to get there on time. Does your church encourage the offering of lifts? Are there services in the afternoon or evening for those who find mornings really difficult?
  • How long are the normal services? Might they be too long for someone with fatigue or chronic pain? Are there ways of including short breaks within the services?
  • What is the seating like in your church? Are extra cushions readily available for those who find it hard to sit for a while? Are there seats near the entrance available for those who find walking uncomfortable? Are there seats from which someone can get to the loo surreptitiously?
  • Are the service sheets clear and easy to follow?
  • When people are requested to stand, they feel obligated to do so, even if it is very uncomfortable for them. Could your minister invite people to 'stand if they're up to it'?
  • If your church has Eucharist services, is it easy for people to signal that they would like to receive it at their seat? Is it obvious that they don't need to kneel?
  • When we offer each other a sign of peace, are we keeping an eye out for those who are staying in their seats rather than walking about?
  • Are there any other ways in which we can support people with invisible disabilities?

This person with invisible disabilities thanks you very much.
Kit Watson is an Anglican living in Salford. She has severe fibromyalgia, so she struggles constantly with fatigue and chronic pain. She is very proud of finally writing this piece!

Daily prayer

Lord, help us to remember the chronically ill within our churches - particularly those with unseen disabilities. Help us to be mindful of the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who struggle often in silence to shoulder weighty burdens. May they not carry them alone.

The Charnel-House

~  From Bauhaus to Beinhaus

I tripped up on The Charnel-House through six degrees of social-media-postings-separation and was interested to see something so intellectually challenging in the blogosphere. Ross Wolfe is a post-grad student whose blog examines history, art, philosophy and architecture, amongst other things. To be honest, some of his posted art is a little macabre for my taste (and I love Kurelek's apocalyptic religious art!) and there is some political criticism that is not of interest to me, but I appreciated the breadth of his posts. I also found he was hearing, in his contact area, from people from very discrete backgrounds and was stimulating feedback that is not the usual blue and white thumbs up or expletive-loaded abuse hurled by some posts' readers. You can read more about him here and check out his posts here.


Macbeth for Graphic Readers

I talked about Gareth Hinds in another blog a few years ago, because I appreciated what his work was contributing to keeping kids interested in mythology and literature. Next month, he has another book coming out, Macbeth in a new adaptation of the text. It's his fourth Shakespearean release and you can read more about his work and the reviews here.  You can place orders here, Amazon and various other outlets. I wish Gareth continued success in his work.