Calvary is the perfect name for a film rising in overtones of religious decline, moral fragility, human weakness, and borderline depravity.

Brendon Gleason shoulders this poignant tale from the first to its last frame as Father James.  It is set in rural Ireland, where the landscape takes your breath away, no matter how often and repeatedly the filmmaker lets your eyes feast on nature in full glory. A small town good natured priest Father James, is hearing a confession one Sunday, when the confessor tells him that he was sexually abused by a priest. The priest in question is dead and there is little reparation that the man will ever get. To make a point about sexual abuse in the church and how there seems to be little real remorse for what happened to him, the man threatens to kill Father James in a weeks time. This is how the film begins and sets the ball rolling of Father James going from one member of the community to another, finding where the moral centre of his town lies. He finds that each and every member of his community is struggling, suffering through life and unsure of where to find comfort: a couple suffers from physical abuse in their relationship, the town police chief has a male concubine, who very blatantly flaunts servicing other men in the community, the doctor at the town hospital has his own dispassionate emotions towards his work and the patients in his care, the richest man around has no family or friends around him and knows not what to do with his wealth than piss on the expensive art work he buys, quite literally. 

While Father James finds his faith pushed and questioned and remains unwavering, its hard not to wonder how goodness does survive in the presence of a mammoth called human depravation. 

Father James’s daughter comes in from the city to spend sometime with him. Fionaa Lavelle is understated and emotionally static and plays the role of a daughter coming home to a father she lost to the hilt. They reconnect somewhat, while she opens her heart out to him. She tenderly confronts him on his abandoning her, after her mother’s death and how the loss of two parents, one living and one dead profoundly altered her life. They part having found each other again and give us some reason to want to continue to live on and not be overcome by despair. 

Writer director John Michael McDonagh isn’t just dabbling with the trauma of child abuse in the Catholic Church, he is talking about a child parent relationship, he is talking about fidelity, humanity, tolerance of the other no matter where we are and who we are, wealth and the trauma it brings.  

One of the most telling moments of the film is when James is walking towards the beach, enroute somewhere and he chances upon a young girl. He casually makes conversation and is speaking to her when suddenly, her father drives up to where they are, stops his car in a haste and begins to aggressively confront James with questions about his motives and what he was trying to do by talking to his daughter. 

James feels mortified at the suggestion that his intention was foul and this breaks him from within. How the actions of a few paints everyone with the same colour. 

Calvary is a difficult film. It lends a deep insight to us being human and us being extremely weak in every way. It is a harsh and detached critique of our everyday failings. The finality of the film merely underscores how goodness struggles every single moment to survive and stay afloat in the sea of human greed.

It doesn’t take more than a small Irish town with a few hundred people, going along their daily lives, to shine the light on the state of the entire human race. 

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Very interesting historical depiction of Marie Antoinette’s women love interests. The film Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine) explores the last few years before the first French revolution and the particular proximity that Marie Antoinette shared with a woman, she gave the title Duchess de Polognac. The film doesn’t go deep into her other liaisons, but this one is boldly depicted in this film, based on a French novel. 

The film is nothing to write home about, other than the brilliant acting of Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour fame) and the fact that cinema is beginning to explore stories that talk about same-sex love and relationships, both contemporary and historical. Watch it for the royal intrigue and Léa Seydoux’s subtle and soft emotional performance.

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From The Desk Of

Noah in the 21st century

How does a story from tenth century BC become so pertinent to our 21st century reality? The simple story of the world drowning in wickedness, which needs to be cleansed and rebooted as it were, so that it can start afresh and hope that the selfish, self-consumed human being will decide to follow the path of righteousness. I was amazed at how relevant this simple story can be to our modern reality. I wasn’t able to find a similar human to Noah, who would be tasked to save the world by building an arc. However, it didn’t take too much persuading to agree that the wickedness in the world needs some heavy duty cleaning. 

On the one side we have Noah, who has been chosen by creation to cleanse humanity’s sins and the other side we have Tubal-cain, the self-proclaimed king of humans, who believes in the right of human beings to subjugate all beasts, believing that the creator created humans in his image and thus meant to rule the world. These two men stand opposite to each other as the models of good and evil; very typical of most religious tales. Additionally Noah asks us our existential question pretty directly, what are we doing to this world and do we deserve to live on without any consequences? The obvious pitfalls with this story is the notion of a miniature world, where the earth (in its flat avatar) exists and nothing else. Where the creator created animals and plants and all that lives with the idea of a paradise, where all would be perfect and live in total harmony. While we may have more information of the ‘real’ world that we live in today, that the universe is indeed infinite and that the Earth is actually round, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have done everything in our power to destroy the Earth (slowly extending our destruction to outer space) and we seem to be spiralling out of control with every passing decade/century.

While wickedness in Noah’s version of the world is greed, power, disrespect for human and other life, all of which caused the fall of man, It is extremely difficult to not see the conflict zones Syria, the Middle East, the Ukraine, Thailand, despotic rulers in Zimbabwe, Central Asia etc., basically begging for the fall of man. Simple answer: we really need an act of god! 

Visually the film is stunning, Aronofsky captures Iceland and its rawness masterfully on camera. The ark is grand and while the animals who made their way into the ark some few and far between, the film did create a visually engaging story. For someone not versed with Judaeo-Christian history and had some fleeting knowledge of the story of Noah, Aronofsky’s twist to the story was very interesting and extremely appropriate to make it relevant to our modernity. Had the film stuck to its original narrative and stayed true to its biblical version, I am not sure the film would have accomplished much. The mark of Aronofsky’s craft meant that Noah became a question that I asked myself. Both Russell Crowe as Noah and Jennifer Connelly as his wife Naameh play their parts perfectly, while Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s father Methuselah is simply brilliant. 

Outside the scope of the film, I don’t see Noah’s story as an answer to our ills. How many arks will we build, how many Noah’s will there need to be for us to just find some basic human commonality in all of us: our humanity? The embarrassing thing is that even a make believe, part religious, part fictional story from over thirty centuries ago makes me feel ashamed of the world we have created for ourselves. This goes to validate what Noah says in the film, 'Till the humans came, the world lived in complete harmony and it was paradise.' Sheer truth! 

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Mongol: the rise of Genghis Khan (dir: Sergey Bodrov) the landscape, the endless meadows with horses galloping on vast stretches of grasslands, the nomadic, pastoral living of peoples in 12th century Mongolia. The film traces the life of young Genghis Khan as he rose from a nobody, a slave, to become one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. The film doesn’t seem grand in scale, however is visually stunning and gives you a sense of grandeur in every frame. Following Genghis Khan’s early years, when he moved from slavery to captivity and then back to slavery, before he finally broke free and gathered his own army, the film portrays Genghis as a quiet and melancholy warrior, deeply influenced by his father’s sense of right and wrong and the heart of the Mongol culture. Throughout his journey’s he attempts to emulate the life of his father in every way possible. Another gift that his father gave him was the choice of a good wife, someone who stood by him through all his disappearances and his subsequent campaigns across the Mongolian steppes to bring together hundreds of warring tribes that forms the modern nation of Mongolia (though Genghis’ victories spread far beyond the Mongol border). 

Tadanobu Asano plays the lead brilliantly and subtly, supported with quiet strength by Khulan Chullun, who plays the wife Borte to the great warrior. 

Asano is both strong on screen and compliments the Mongolian landscape with his stoic and firm presence. Not just is the film a visual treat, but its slow rendering narrative allows you to become part of this era that marked human history so remarkably.

Barring some history lessons on Mongolia, my unfamiliarity with the period and its events allowed me to enjoy the film greatly. A subtle, well made film, on a subject matter that is not as frequently spoken of. 



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