Saturday, 12 March 2016


Parts of me are still numb more than 24 hours after watching the film. As a priest I have been bruised and battered by the story that this film unfolds. I wanted to stress that I am not Catholic - but that only points to my empty selfishness and does nothing to offer any salve to the wounds - on both sides - that are still open and raw. What a painful mess. If you don't know what the subject of the film is, it is a film about a team of journalists uncovering the systematic abuse of a very large number of children by Catholic priests in the archdiocese of Boston over many years. It transpires that the abuse was widespread - globally.

The film is as good as the story is bad. To have won Oscars for Best Film and Best Original Screenplay is truly fitting - but the accolades in other halls are the ones that will matter more to the cast, to the real life journalists on the Boston Globe Spotlight team and to the victims. In any other year Mark Ruffalo who played Mike Rezendes, would have won Best Actor hands down. A gripping and passionately absorbing performance. Stanley Tucci (Mitchell Garabedian) and Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeifer) along with Michael Keaton  (Walter 'Robby' Robinson) also gave stand out performances - as did Liev Schreiber playing the introvert and understated Editor Marty Baron.

I cannot remember when two hours and eight minutes last passed so quickly. The dramatic tension, pace and development of the narrative are brilliantly maintained in a consistent and believable way. It would have been so easy for the film to have become a condemning sermon, or simply a vehicle for character assassination or to have gloried in the Spotlight Team, but it is none of these. It is never without drama, but because it is based on real events, it has an almost fly-on-the-wall documentary feel to it. It is the story which drives the film forward as it offers an exemplar of investigative journalism at its best.

The film offers a number of challenges:
  • It challenges those who hold office in the church to reflect on how they discharge their responsibilities, profession and vocation.
  • It challenges those who collude with a bullying institution that finds coping strategies whilst brushing grotesque abuses under the carpet.
  • It challenges the community of a city for its implicit part in something scandalous that placed cultural heritage mixed in with God's Church above God's love and in so doing challenges us all to not follow suit.
  • It challenges Editors to be free to back the hunches of journalists they trust and to allocate resources to stories that need to be told.
  • It challenges the abused to take courage and find a way of speaking out.
  • It challenges society to find ways of helping people who are scarred for life, some of whom are unable to function normally in their relationships.
  • It challenges governments who do not allow freedom of the press.
The original response of the Catholic Church was to shuffle the pack to seemingly promote the Cardinal at the centre of policy of the toleration. It is obviously not something that would be promoted publicly whilst underway, but I hope that under Pope Francis reforms are underway to ensure this never happens again. He tweeted recently "God has caressed us with his mercy. Let us bring God’s tender caress to others, to those who are in need." There are enough people in need in the world without the Church creating more - and I know this isn't restricted to just the Catholic Church.

As painful as this film is, it is important that its story is told. As a film, it's top drawer in almost every respect. I think it will retain its status and place among the best of modern films. I will certainly be adding the disc to my collection - but will have to choose carefully the company in which I watch it! As a film, fully deserving of 9/10.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Woman in the Fifth

One of my general rules of thumb is that there is a group of actors who only ever choose interesting films in which to appear. Kristin Scott Thomas is one of these and this film doesn't disappoint. It will confuse, bamboozle, frustrate and cause you to scratch your head. It is a film that asks lots of questions and intentionally offers no answers. I think it is a great film.

Western left-brain culture demands stories with a narrative arc which delivers a successful resolution of the story with a happy ending. This film would be more at home at Studio Ghibli or under the Direction of people like Yimou Zhang but it is Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. It is a dark film that offers a study of depression and confusion, of creativity unable to find an outlet and passion that seemingly can only find expression in fantasy. Or was it reality? Either way, discussing the 'plot' of this film will probably not spoil your enjoyment of it if you decide to watch it - if 'enjoyment' is the right word!

Tom (Ethan Hawke), a novelist, arrives in Paris to seek out his young daughter. He is divorced from his wife and has seemingly recovered from a bout of mental ill health. His wife has a restraining order on him and alerts the police to his presence. He escapes and falls asleep on the bus where he is robbed. The end of the line is a Parisian suburb which is far from salubrious.

Tom ends up in a bar and is offered a room by the owner Sezer (Samir Guesmi) who takes his passport and in doing so seemingly takes away Tom's sense of identity. Sezer's wife is the pretty Ania (Joanna Kulig) who has an interest in literature which develops into an interest in Tom. Sezer who is engaged in criminal activity, offers Tom a job to cover the cost of his room. Like many elements of the film, we never discover what the job is related to. However, we spend much time with Tom 'at work' which becomes a space for him to work on his second novel, but his writing turns into an illustrated letter to his daughter.

Tom is invited to a pretentious literary soiree where he meets the sultry and smoldering Margit (Scott Thomas). She invites him to call her "after 4pm" and agrees to a twice weekly meeting in her apartment in the Fifth arrondissement at 5pm sharp. She is very controlling but seduces a willing Tom. The big question is 'is she real' or a psychotic construct of Tom's illness?

The lighting of the film gives everything a dull glow and many of the shots are long shots or shots through windows or from above as though we are passive voyeurs. This film is visually different. The various elements of the story are spliced together by ethereal shots of a wood, the insects in it and an owl resolutely staring into the camera. It is as though these woodland shots punctuate different psychotic episodes in Tom's spiral downward into ever deeper despair.

This is a bold and brave film which seeks to do something very different. It is not without its flaws and whether it is completely successful is debatable but that shouldn't stop you from watching it. One of its redeeming features is that it is only 85 minutes long which is plenty long enough for the questions Pawlikowski poses to be eloquently stated - but what answers viewers come up with, will be many and varied.

This is not an uplifting film but it will get your grey cells working and leave you with many questions. There are some excellent acting performances from most of the cast. I'm glad I saw it and would watch it again - in a little while. I'll give it 8/10.