Thursday, 2 December 2010

Films of Faith and Doubt

I have just had the privilege of leading a three day course with a group of lay and ordained folk from the Diocese where we explored together what God might be saying in and through five films which probed various aspects of faith and doubt. In a sense the format and content presented nothing new. What was new and unique was the intentionality of bringing together that group of (self-selecting) people in that place at that time to watch, reflect on and interact on these films. Again and again reactions centred on the power of narrative to engage and transport us - something to be aware of as we communicate the Gospel message today in a world hungry for a good story.

There were many occasions where people's emotions were engaged - rage, anger, pity, pain, sorrow, loss, love, regret, hope, grace, blessing, gift and bewilderment all played their part. The course was well received and all participants contributed significantly to our shared learning together. Thanks to those who were there.

We kicked off with Bergman's Winter Light made in 1962. Bergman's then wife agreed that it was a masterpiece - but a dreary masterpiece. Exploring existential angst in the midst of the bleakness of a flatly lit Swedish November, a Lutheran Pastor, widowed, grieving and feeling inadequate, wrestles with the realities of life and death - and doesn't always get it right. Not a cheery film to watch but a good one to open with.

This was followed by Angel-A from Luc Besson. If all Angel's look like Rie Rasmussen bring heaven on! A powerful exploration of self-image where the central character, Andre, is helped to gain sufficient self-confidence to adopt a persona that is more integrated with his charcter and as it happens one which makes him more attractive as an individual. It is a film about hope and transformation. It is shot in black and white and dramatically exploits the backdrop of Paris in all its splendour and seediness.

After a night's sleep, we steeled ourselves for Jesus of Montreal - surely one of the best re-tellings of the Passion there is. Too many Passion Plays are set in ancient times or in contexts that are so unfamiliar that the focus is on the story. But this film is set in contemporary Montreal - a modern, throbbing, thriving metropolis - a context that a large proportion of us find familiar. This recontextualisation forces the viewer to appropriate the Passion story in a way that makes it very much of the here and now and not simply a distant misty image engaged with in Passion Week each year.

Being a kind soul, we had some free time in the afternoon before watching As it is in Heaven in the evening. This Swedish film is hard to get hold of. It has not been distributed in the UK or USA and as far as I'm aware there is no English language version available - which is good as the Swedish language is so expressive. I managed to get hold of an Australian (Region 4) disc through ebay which had English sub-titles (most European versions have only German sub-titles). This is a powerful film about the transformation of a community. If the final scenes give us a glimpse of what Heaven may be like, sign me up now. Powerful.

I then offered a late-night optional seasonal viewing of The Flint Street Nativity which was well received and a welcome antidote to all the existential angst that was in the other films. Strong performances from a great cast.

We rounded the whole thing off on the final morning by watching Keeping the Faith which I have now seen a number of times. With each viewing the issues it deals with grow in complexity and depth and I really do commend this as a challenging film - especially for anyone in ministry. A great performance from the leading trio ably supported by Eli Wallach and Anne Bancroft. This is not a 'piff and bubble' film. It was directed by and stars Ed Norton who dedicated it his late mother - Robin Norton. It has a powerful message that Norton obviously felt he had to communicate. I for one, am grateful that he did.

Interspersed between the viewings were sessions reflecting on what we'd seen, some general stuff on how we might approach theological reflection in the context of films, an exploration of some of the resources out there to help us with that and a series of papers that I had prepared on a range of issues related to films of faith and doubt.

My thanks to all who contributed.

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