It’s time for another movie review.

This weekend I watched three movies.  One I really liked (Julie and Julia), one I would have liked if I was thirteen (High School Musical 3… did I really just admit I watched that?), and one left me wanting more.

A friend loaned me the 2002 movie Joshua, based on a series of books.  He said he was interested in what I thought of the film, so I turned it on ready to evaluate it.  I knew a little bit about the books- enough to be skeptical, but not enough to go in with my mind already made up about it.

After watching the film, I felt I had discovered the Savior.  Not my Savior, but the Savior of the Church of Relativism.

Stick with me as I engage on this little- but relevant- tangent: Awhile back, while out shopping with a religious sister, we saw a depiction of a fairly anemic Jesus.  Sister took one look at him and said, “That’s not the Man I married.”

That’s sort of how I felt after watching Joshua.  A little background– the movie (and I suppose the books, as well) tells the story of a mysterious traveler who shows up in a small community.  This Joshua eventually brings the community together, by rebuilding an old church, by physically healing people, and by reaching out to everyone in love.  He comes under the wrath of the local Catholic priest, who is suspicious of him because he’s not traditional.

In the end, the priest is in tears, hugs Joshua, and all is good with the world.  Joshua goes to see the Holy Father (who realizes Joshua is somehow Jesus, returning but not returning, as in it’s-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it) and leaves him with the reminder to help everyone to love.  Sounds nice and fuzzy.  But it was… sort of flat.   I had some questions for this Joshua.

Being Catholic isn’t easy.  Being Christian isn’t easy.  And after watching the movie, it seems that I’ve got it all wrong. Forget all those rituals, all that fear of God, all that avoiding sin.  Forget that struggle against vice and battle for virtue.  Forget waking up early to go to Mass before work.  Forget saving sex for marriage.

I just have to be nice to people!

yay!

Institutions = closed minded!  Ritual = unneccessary!  Traditions, rules, preaching about sin = ridiculous!

We just need more love.

When Pope Benedict wrote his first encyclical on love, I think everyone did a double-take.  What did this guy know about love?

I did a double-take, not because I didn’t think he knew about love, but because I had kind of tossed the whole “God is Love” thing out with the burlap banner I had made in second grade.  I had heard “God is Love” ad nauseum and had begun to tune it out, right along with Kumbaya.

And there lies the danger of that pendalum swing!  Yes, Jesus was much more than a nice guy who healed people and brought communities together (and I pointed out my friend- while Joshua brought the communities together, Jesus split them apart!!), His central message was love.

So Joshua was right — we need to love.

But when Christ taught us to love, it wasn’t a free-for-all.  As much as we don’t want to admit it, He gave us rules.  He founded a Church (Mt 16:18) and he instituted sacraments.  It wasn’t just, “Go and love people.”  It was, in the words of John the Baptist, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

And what is love?   Is it “group hug, let’s all just get along, no one create waves”?  What about when Christ says, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!  I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!  Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

That doesn’t sound like love!  But it is.

In his new encyclical, Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict reminds us: “For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first encyclical Letter, “God is love” (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God’s love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God’s greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.”

But he continues, “I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued.  …  Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living.  This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence. … Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived.  Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity.  That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.  Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.  In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love.  It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.”

Sometimes the truth hurts.  Sometimes it’s a “hard saying.”  But that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth.  And it doesn’t mean it’s not love.

So I was left wanting more from Joshua.  Not that he was a weakling physically, but he certainly wasn’t the Savior I’m following.  He would be a nice guy to have as a friend, because he oozes kindness and love, but He lacked that fire — the fire of the One Who caused a bit of a disruption when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.”

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  The Lord Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

This past week, I had a movie night for my students.  The movie had been requested by one of the young men, so although I had my doubts about its ability to attract college students, I went with it.

Into Great Silence.

I hesitate to even write about it.  To find words for this film, nay, this experience, seems to betray it at its very core.

I doubted the whole thing.  I wondered how I could watch a movie for three hours in complete silence.  And while we did break it up (we’re watching the second half tomorrow), all I can say is that you just have to give it a chance.  Sit there in silence and take it in.  Stop doubting.  Just watch.  Let go.  And you’ll find yourself slipping into a peacefulness that you haven’t felt since you were six or seven years old.

A few observations on the viewing:

In the first several minutes of the movie, the loudness of the room around us was apparent.  I instinctively wanted to turn up the volume, as if that would make the silence cover the cacophony of noises that surrounded us.  Noises we hadn’t even noticed five minutes earlier.  A Coke machine hummed.  A refrigerator kicked on.  Someone drove by outside.  A siren screeched from the hospital next door.  A speck of dust landed on the couch.

It was hard for some of the students to sit still and really enter into the movie.  While they didn’t mention it when we broke at the end, I was sitting behind most of them and could see them instinctively check their cell phones every so often.  It wasn’t that they weren’t enjoying the film– rather, we’re programmed to commit half our brains to something or someone that may or may not need us now or later.  We can’t surrender our entire attention, we can’t become completely engrossed in something, because we have made ourselves available at -literally- every moment of the day to anyone who can get a hold of the ten numbers that correspond to our pants pocket.

Once I allowed myself to fall in, I fell in.  Once I stopped wondering, “How long are they going to show that monk kneeling there in prayer?” or “Why are they zooming in on that drop of rain on that windowsill?” I found myself sitting on the stone floor, the coldness numbing my rear, the damp French air heavy in solitude.  The monks didn’t seem to notice I was sitting there, the incredulous interloper who carefully watched their calculated, graceful movements.  I wanted to tug on one of their rough habits and ask how they resisted running outside into the Alpine wonderland and yelling for joy, just to hear their own echo.  The silence around me,  interrupted only by the sound of a monk’s footsteps or the sound of a cart coming down the hallway, seemed the remedy for a long week of work in the world.   

There was utter and complete peace.  I never thought I could watch a movie that seemed to give me that same weightless feeling that sitting in the chapel sometimes gives.  You know the feeling– all the stress disapears as if someone physically lifted it from you with a compassionate yank. 

After awhile, just the thought of a movie with people talking in it seemed loud and wrong.  That’s the only way to explain it, really.  It seemed odd to think people talked at me in movies, and I had to stop thinking of the possibility before it gave me a headache.

I think some people would complain that more things in the movie weren’t explained.  For example, there are a few scenes of a monk rolling a cart down a hallway and opening little windows and putting things in, taking things out, etc.  I think this is how the monks eat– normally they eat in solitude, and their meals are delivered by the cart-pushing monk through a little window-like door.  (On Sundays, we learn, they eat in common.)  This isn’t explained, but is absorbed.  I believe not having explanation helped.  I know that sounds weird.  But in this day and age, we always want to know the answers.  We’re always demanding information… without letting ourselves just enter into the situation.  

Let me ‘splain. Friends of mine attended Vespers at St. Paul Outside the Walls last spring.  Everything sung and prayed was  entirely in Latin and Italian.  One of the women wasn’t Catholic, and therefore even the notion and form of Vespers was rather foreign to her.  Afterwards, my Catholic friend apologized to her.  But Carol had a very interesting comment.  She loved the Vespers, and she commented that it was better that she didn’t understand the language.  Not distracted by every word, she was able to enter into prayer.  It became an experience to be lived, rather than a pedantic exercise.  That’s what it was like here.  Not burdened by a didactic explanation of every action, one is able to enter into the life.

All of this being said, my favorite part of the movie, ironically, was a conversation the monks were having (the priests get to speak to each other on Sundays) about washing their hands before eating.  I don’t want to ruin the whole scene, because it really is a jewel, and I debated whether or not to mention it here.

But it’s just too good to pass up.  If you’re going to watch the movie, stop reading here, and then come back and read this after watching. ; )

 They weren’t washing their hands for sanitary reasons, but in a symbolic gesture.  One monk questioned whether they should continue.  It wouldn’t be wrong to get rid of something useless, right?

Another monk replies, “Our entire life, the whole liturgy, and everything ceremonial are symbols. If you abolish the symbols, then you tear down the walls of your own house.”

Another monk… or perhaps the same one (it’s hard to tell them apart, haha) adds, “When we abolish the signs, we lose our orientation.  Instead, we should search for their meaning.  But one should unfold the core of the symbols.  The signs are not to be questioned, we are.”

And another (or again, the same… he’s very wise if it’s still him…) adds, “The error is not to be found in the handwashing, the error is in our mind.”

And then, as quickly as the profundity came in words, it slips back into deeds, and you find yourself in great silence once again.

As for that discourse… someone may have just found the beginnings of a dissertation topic.

While we were in Assisi recently, my friend Katy was reminded of an Italian movie she had seen on the life of Francis — aptly named “Francesco.”  She warned me that it was not always historically accurate, but that the creators had admitted its inaccuracy.  Instead of looking for precise historical accuracy, they were looking to capture the spirit of Francis.  Katy said they had captured that spirit well.

When I spoke to her last week, she was a bit more reserved in her judgment of the movie upon a second viewing.  She had warned me several times of the Clare-Francis relationship, and she reiterated that warning. But she still encouraged me to see it.

I’m glad she did.  On the whole, I really enjoyed the movie.  I thought it really had captured the spirit of Francis quite well.  Gone was the hippy Francis prancing to Donovan of Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  And good riddance.  That was not Francis.

Here we found a Francesco who embraced suffering with joy.  St Francis was no hippy– he laid in thorns, for pete’s sake.  He embracing suffering like a brother.  And the movie captured this wonderfully.  Francesco was happy because he suffered.  The first of the two episodes was pretty dark (again, goodbye fruity Brother Sun).  There was blood and death and battle and torture.  In the end of the movie, there was pain and division and a dark night of the soul.  There was even Francis’ wonderful recounting of what ‘perfect joy’ entailed– rejection, suffering, and torture.  Perfect joy.

However, the movie didn’t just focus on pain and suffering, as if Francis was some sort of masochist.  It portrayed Francesco as a lovable Italian, too — he was happy, carefree, expressive.  He was lovable!  He had an aura of someone you wanted to be with (it helped that he was played by the handsome Roman, Raoul Bova), someone you could see yourself following.  That had to be the way St Francis was in real life.  We all know he was counter-cultural, radical… and yet people followed him.  Why would someone follow him if he was a complete weirdo?  He had to be likable.

I also loved the fact that this movie was made by Italians, in Italy, in Italian.  Francis spoke Italian!  Beautifully! And it adds so much to hear him speak his native tongue.

But… I’m not going to recommend this movie wholesale.  I had plenty of disagreements with it.

First, the whole Francis-Clare relationship.  Clare is one of my favorite saints, so I need her to be portrayed perfectly.   In Francesco, they played up the sexual-tension between the two– a tension that was most likely never there, given their 13 year age difference (the movie, like so many others, portrays them as peers).  One thing that it does provide (and I don’t think this is an original thought… I’m stealing it from Katy…) is to show you that Francis gave up everything.  Sure, Clare was 13 years younger than him.  But there were other young women in Assisi.  Francis was wealthy, happy, good-looking, a troubadour.  While he didn’t give up a romance with Clare, presumably he gave up other women for his new bride, Lady Poverty.  This is probably what the filmmakers were trying to show their viewers.

They correctly showed Chiara as a virtuous young woman performing works of mercy long before Francesco’ conversion.  That is often not mentioned, and I’m glad it was in Francesco. Otherwise, however, I didn’t like their portrayal of Chiara.  She was far too dramatic, unrestrained, and almost intemperate.  She was constantly coming to Francesco (even leaving the convent to do so, something Clare never did.  Francis always came to her), and her familiarity with the brothers (even sleeping outside with them prior to her entrance into the convent) was not only radically anachronistic, but also very un-Clare.

Other inaccuracies weren’t enough to get me riled up, but were disappointing because they were unnecessary.  Portraying San Damiano as being on a mountain rather than in valley, for example, was an error that didn’t add much to the movie and should have been corrected.  Keeping Chiara in the Benedictine convent for most of Francesco’ life — or, at least, not showing her moving to San Damiano with other Poor Ladies– took something away from Clare and her story.

But other inaccuracys — or, rather, omissions– were enough to get me riled up.  Most notably… the absence of the miracle of the San Damiano crucifix.  How could you leave out the most pivotal moment of Francis’ life?!  A few artistic shots of the San Damiano crucifix just doesn’t cut it.   Christ’s words to him were, without a doubt, the defining moment in his ministry.  He had been prepared for his ministry through his imprisonment and convalescence, but he doesn’t know what God is calling him to do until that moment in San Damiano.  This movie seems to focus on various personal experiences in prison that St Francis never had — or, at least, not to anyone’s knowledge.

I think the absence of this miracle is the most glaring example of the greater theme that is missing from Francesco: The Church.  Francis was Francis because of his intense love for Holy Mother Church.  This movie misses that completely.  He is shown praying in San Damiano and once they show Mass being said — but that is it.  The Eucharist was central to Francis’ ministry.  And this is missing.

In the movie, Francesco treats the messenger of the Bishop rather disrespectfully.  He is rather rash towards the Holy Father.  He lacks the submission to the Church, the radical love for the Church.  In real life, Francis throws himself in a pig sty out of extreme obedience to the Holy Father — not accidentally, as in the movie.

At one point, while Francis is suffering in prayer, Clare is told that Francis will have to find the answers “within himself.”  It is as if Francis is above the Church, beyond the Church.  Yes, the Church of Francis was in need of reform– reform that the mendicant Orders were founded to bring.  He was radically different from anything the medieval Church had seen.  He was attempting to follow the Gospel literally, something he was advised against because it was too hard.  But Francis was an intimate part of the Church, an obedient son, not something above and beyond.

St Francis refused to become a priest because he felt he was too unworthy for the office. (He DID become a deacon!)  In Francesco, it seems that his refusal centers on the fact that he believes anyone should be able to preach.  Again, the movie failed to show the true ecclesial nature of Francis’ spirit.

The creators of Francesco made the movie to give young people a “point of reference,” in a culture where they lack just that.  I think they did a beautiful job in recreating the joyful, suffering spirit of Francis.  I only wish they had given the young people a better view of the intimate relationship between Francis and the Church.  It is only because of his union with Holy Mother Church that Francis was able to be that hero for all of us.

… to bring you a review.

I know a lot of new people may be coming to the blog these days, and I encourage you to peruse the site and the random smattering of posts.

I plan on continuing my political posts, but I interrupt the trend to bring you to a fabulous little coffeeshop I visited this morning.  I miss visiting places and reporting back on them since returning to the States, so today I’m bringing a bit of joaninrome.wordpress.com to this blog.  … in more ways than one!

CREMA

I have to admit, I was never crazy about coffee.  I didn’t understand what people loved about it.  I could get the same caffeine buzz from Mountain Dew, without that funny aftertaste and smell.

The first time I lived in Rome, everyone raved about the coffee… and I had it once or twice– but it just didn’t do much for me.  The next year, I was drinking drip coffee in the morning when I needed to stay awake to study, so I could drink it– but I didn’t really like it.

Then I lived in Rome again.  I decided to give all that talk about cappuccini and caffe latte another chance.

And I loved it.  I actually enjoyed drinking cappuccini in the mornings.  I never felt addicted, which made me the happiest.  Even when returning to the States, I missed my morning cappuccino for everything that came with it– not for the caffeine.

When I had my first caffe latte upon returning home, it was everything I expected… nothing.  (And they just called it “latte”… *sigh*… I didn’t order milk, people.  I ordered coffee and milk.)  It didn’t have much flavor, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they poured so much milk in there to dilute the espresso.  I wanted quality, not quantity.

I don’t know why I even ordered “coffee” soon afterwards.  I felt like I was drinking dirty water.

Three months later, I found Crema.  I was looking for a place to work on my day off (explain that one to me, haha) and I have come to the realization that I just don’t get much work done in my apartment (the story of my life for the past three years!).  While I was looking online for a coffeeshop in the area, I found several in the Vanderbilt area.. and then I saw Crema.

CREMA is coffee’s zip code here in the USofA.  Located in the Rutledge Hill area of Nashville, just south of downtown, Crema’s owner, Rachel, knows coffee…. and she cares about coffee.  I’ll let you roam around her website yourself, but I can vouch for this much — this morning she brought me the best cappuccino I have had since returning to the States.  It was fantastic!!!

Unfortunately, Crema is across town from work and home.  It will have to be reserved for special occasions — or days off when I need to work.  I also had a fantastic little quiche for breakfast, and it was just the right atmosphere to get some reading done.

When my friends come to visit me in Nashville, I plan on taking them to Crema.  While it’s not San Eustachio or Tazza d’Oro, it’s as close to an Italian morning as I’m going to get in quite some time.  [It’s still American– there are seats (you can sit down and read! thanks, Rachel!) and tables, there were no Italian carabinieri standing at the counter enjoying their morning espresso, and I ordered in English.]

And it’s not Starbucks.  And that, my friends, is enough to keep me coming back.  : )

(Photo courtesy of Crema)

I watched a pretty disappointing movie tonight.  It was disappointing because I thought it had potential when I read the little blurb about it.  It could have been so much better.

Definitely, Maybe. Perhaps the title should have told me that this would be a wishy-washy relativistic flick…

My friend Katy warned me about it… she watched it on a plane and disliked it.  A plane– aren’t all movies better on planes?

But I didn’t heed her advice.  I wanted to see it for myself.  I will spare you the running commentary I jotted down while the movie ran.  I began jotting my thoughts down in the opening credits, when the movie appeared to have some promise as a commentary of modern society.  [He spends the opening credits with headphones in his ears, walking through crowded New York city.  Headphones in the ears is a HUGE pet peeve of mine (um, welcome to the world people.  Why don’t you join it?) and it was the perfect scene illustrating how some people are so alone while surrounded by so many.]

And therein lies the problem.  It should have been a commentary, a critique, of modern society.  Instead?  It embraced it.

Marriage is “an institution that fails as often as it succeeds,” one character quips.  Does the movie protest that?  Nope.  It practically celebrates it.  When the daughter of the main character is in anguish over her father divorcing her mother, does the movie challenge its viewers to ponder divorce’s effect on children?  Not much.  When the same daughter questions, “If they didn’t want a baby, why did they have sex?”, does the movie proceed to show the consequences of casual sex?  Not.at.all.

If you think you may like someone?  Sleep with them.

If you think you love someone?  Move in with them.

If you’re talking to someone of the opposite sex?  Randomly passionately kiss them.

The story centers around a man who is in the middle of a divorce from his wife.  When his daughter questions him about how her parents met, he reluctantly tells her (although with great detail, I might add.  Much more detail than he probably should have shared with an eight year old) the story of how he ended up marrying her mother– but changes the names of the girls involved in the story, so she has to guess which of the three women her father has been involved with (and I mean involved with) is actually her mother.

The story could be cute… if you didn’t remember with thirty minutes left that the end of it all is going to be him getting a divorce from one of the three women you’ve just watched him fall in “love” with… His daughter Maya comes to the realization at the same time it reoccurred to me, and she wails that she knows there will be no happy ending– because she knows her parents are getting a divorce.

Before her father, Will, leaves her with “you are the happy ending,” you are forced to watch him stiffly meet his wife again, to return Maya to her– just after you watched an hour and a half of him falling in “love” with her.  I literally felt ill watching it.  I thought I was actually going to cry… these two were supposed to be in love.  And now… there’s nothing there?  They’ve been married for seven or eight years, and now nothing?  What about Maya?  What about a little girl who needs a mother and a father?  What about Maya, who has just listened to how and why her father fell in love with her mother?

What is he saying to her?

If the movie ended here, with the entire audience feeling as ill as I was feeling, it might sort of succeed as a commentary on the wretched state in which our society finds itself.  If you were left with the suffering of Maya as she is affected by her parents’ decision, if you were left questioning where such happiness had gone, if you were left chiding Will for being such a wuss, if you were left wondering, uncomfortable, upset, confused…

But you aren’t.  Instead, Will finds new love in an old love.  He finds “love” with the next girl (who was, by the way, one of the original three), and somehow it all is okay.

So the lesson?

That marriage can be “right” for now, but may not be “right” later.  That one girl fits now, and one girl fits later.  It’s perfectly fine that he was married to one woman for seven years… but gosh, now it doesn’t really work.  Now it doesn’t feel right.  So now he’ll go back to another one.  And that will be right.

….for now.  They don’t say that, but you can hardly feel satisfied watching him with the next girl when you’re not quite sure why this should succeed any more than the first girl.  (After all, there’s that third one out there that just sort of disappeared…. do I hear second divorce and sequel?)

I don’t even believe in casual dating.  But casual marriage?  But that’s exactly what Definitely, Maybe sells.  I definitely love you.  Maybe.  For now.