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Believing filmmaker, (good) religious film

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Link to "Religious theme, nonbelieving artist."

 

Here I want to explore counter-examples to the list of films adduced in the above-linked thread—films like The Mission and Of Gods and Men that are "religion-positive" but made by filmmakers who are clearly not believers—and ask what are the best films made by filmmakers who are clearly believers? 

 

I'm not looking for films by filmmakers who were conventionally religious—a description that probably includes, say, Cecil B. DeMille. I am also most interested in Christian filmmakers, though filmmakers in other religious traditions might also be worth exploring. 

 

The most obvious candidates that occur to me: 

  • Robert Bresson, Diary of a Country Priest. (The religious themes in other films are mostly sublimated or, in the case of Lancelot, problematized.)
  • Terrence Malick, The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder
  • Franco Zeffirelli, Jesus of Nazareth. (Zeffirelli is gay but his Catholic belief is sincere; he has publicly called himself a sinner, and I'm told he believes he is damned.) 

What else? 

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Andrei Tarkovsky, Andrei Rublev

 

How did I forget to include Tarkovsky after just rewatching Andrei Rublev last week? Thanks for the reminder. 

 

Rohmer is an interesting case. He's a believer, and My Night at Maud is certainly a thoughtful exploration of a moral and religious landscape, but I'm not sure it's "religion-positive" in quite the sense I'm looking for. 


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil

 

Didn't Bresson call himself a "Christian atheist?"  I'm not sure if he meant he believed or didn't believe by that.

 

I'm fairly certain Carl Th. Dreyer was some sort of believer.

 

Does anyone know if Hugh Hudson (director of Chariots of Fire) has any religious beliefs?

 

 

EDIT:

 

The Exorcist, written by William Peter Blatty, who's Catholic.

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Is it okay to nominate Mel Gibson, Benedict Fitzgerald, and Jim Caviezel for Passion of the Christ?


Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Didn't Bresson call himself a "Christian atheist?"  I'm not sure if he meant he believed or didn't believe by that.

 

I've never seen that quote in context. I believe it's well accepted that Bresson was a Jansenist Catholic for at least much of his life. 

 

Is it okay to nominate Mel Gibson, Benedict Fitzgerald, and Jim Caviezel for Passion of the Christ?

 

I'd include it, but it's a controversial call, of course. 


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Is it okay to nominate Mel Gibson, Benedict Fitzgerald, and Jim Caviezel for Passion of the Christ?

 

I'd include it, but it's a controversial call, of course. 

 

 

If we define a person's faith for at representing that moment in time, I think it's proper.  He (Gibson) squandered it later, but that doesn't appear in the 2004 film.

 

How's the faith of Zefferelli? 

 

And I suppose _Antwone Fisher_, though it has religious scenes, doesn't quite cross the mark in terms of being a "religious" film (though Denzel is a known person of faith).


Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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If we define a person's faith for at representing that moment in time, I think it's proper.  He (Gibson) squandered it later, but that doesn't appear in the 2004 film.

That's not what I meant. I mean the film itself is controversial. Ideally I want films that speak broadly both to believers and nonbelievers. The Passion of the Christ isn't without secular defenders — or religious critics, for that matter — but it seems fair to say its constituency is overwhelmingly religious. That's not what really I'm looking for. At best it's an arguable case where I'm looking more for slam-dunks. 

 

How's the faith of Zefferelli?

Unchanged, so far as I know. Again, I'm not looking for personal integrity in the filmmaker's life. If The Passion were generally recognized as a strong film, it would qualify regardless of Mel's personal problems. 

 

And I suppose _Antwone Fisher_, though it has religious scenes, doesn't quite cross the mark in terms of being a "religious" film (though Denzel is a known person of faith).

Probably not, from my memories of the film.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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If we define a person's faith for at representing that moment in time, I think it's proper.  He (Gibson) squandered it later, but that doesn't appear in the 2004 film.

That's not what I meant. I mean the film itself is controversial. Ideally I want films that speak broadly both to believers and nonbelievers. The Passion of the Christ isn't without secular defenders — or religious critics, for that matter — but it seems fair to say its constituency is overwhelmingly religious. That's not what really I'm looking for. At best it's an arguable case where I'm looking more for slam-dunks. 

 

 

I think when it comes to Passion of the Christ, the animosity of the detractors are largely based on two elements, that give me pause as to whether they have credibility.  The first is whether by focusing solely on the final moments of Christ's life, without context of all that came before it, was worthy of a subject matter (interesting that this is not raised with "Passion of Joan of Arc," which is a frequent entry in Sight & Sound's Top 10).  The other is whether the movie is anti-Semitic (to which I can understand the concerns, as evidenced by the pogroms that occurred en masse after each and every showing in every U.S. theater...  ...   does a winkie have enough gravitas here?).

 

In light of these two criticisms being debunked, and noting that while I do not think that it is a "slam-dunk" (demonic Mini-Me being a reason), I do think it is a _good_ movie, beautifully shot, properly paced, wonderfully acted, and filled with profound insights.

Edited by Nick Alexander

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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I've forgotten what Dreyer's faith might have been. I know the whole bit about the supposedly stern Lutheranism of his upbringing, but don't recall if he rejected Christianity. He did have a script for a film he hoped to direct on the life of Christ, but it wasn't exactly orthodox, if memory serves. (I read the published screenplay ages ago.)

 

I enjoyed Googling "Carl Dreyer Christian" and seeing this article come up as the top choice. Man, that was a long time ago.


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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hhmmm...

 

Wim Wenders: Wings of Desire & Faraway, So Close!  ???

Well, it has a spiritual theme, obviously, but are there any religious characters?

Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary's

Sure.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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hhmmm...

 

Wim Wenders: Wings of Desire & Faraway, So Close!  ???

Well, it has a spiritual theme, obviously, but are there any religious characters?

Leo McCarey, The Bells of St. Mary's

Sure.

 

I suppose Wender's films are less religious and more existential in theme and characters, but I've often mulled over whether they are religious films.

 

As for The Bell's of St. Mary's, it's not really my cup of tea, rather sappy for my tastes, but... it fits.

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Perhaps Brad Bird's The Iron Giant?

 

Both Abel Ferrera and Martin Scorcese were raised Catholic, and their films often have overt religious themes (Bad Lieutenant, The Addiction; The Last Temptation of Christ, the upcoming Silence)

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Perhaps Brad Bird's The Iron Giant?

 

I'm not sure this meets either criteria. Is Bird a believer? I don't recall. As for The Iron Giant, I'm not thinking here of religious subtexts, but religion as text. So for all the spiritual themes of the Dardennes, so far as I'm aware the first example of text-level religion-positivity would be a supporting character in their latest film, Two Days, One Night.

 

Both Abel Ferrera and Martin Scorcese were raised Catholic, and their films often have overt religious themes (Bad Lieutenant, The Addiction; The Last Temptation of Christ, the upcoming Silence)

Ashamed to say I've never seen Bad Lieutenant or The Addiction.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Not sure how far you're willing to stretch the Christian label, but Robert Duvall has identified himself as a Christian Scientist, and he made The Apostle.

 

Pretty sure Carl Dreyer was a believer, too, so Ordet, Joan of Arc, and even The Parson's Widow could fit.


It's the side effects that save us.
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Charles Laughton co-wrote and directed Night of the Hunter - per Wikipedia, his mother was a devout Irish Catholic, and he attended a Jesuit school.  Professionally, it looks as though he were frequently drawn to religious works, FWIW.


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

http://secularcinephile.blogspot.com

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First time I ever heard the expression "Christian atheist" was when Sam Phillips applied it to herself in a 1994 interview with the Georgia Straight. Oh, how we Christian fans of hers processed that one.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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How about I Confess?  Hitchcock was Catholic, with some periods of his life being more devout than others, but I believe I Confess was made during a more religious stage of his life.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Here's the essay: "Believing filmmakers explore — and cross-examine — faith."

 

My thesis and conclusion: 

 

Strikingly, where the religious films of nonbelievers often feature idealized religious characters more or less certain in their faith, films by believers often put their characters’ faith to a more existential test…

 

What the examples above suggest, I think, is that the most honest and moving art is often that in which artists of all persuasions challenge their own dispositions rather than indulging them. Good art is a struggle in which the artist seeks to transcend himself. When an atheist filmmaker celebrates a protagonist’s faith, or when a believing filmmaker cross-examines faith, then something may emerge with the power to speak to viewers of varying persuasions.


“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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So many threads where I could post this, but I'm just going to stop with a link here. Feel free to relocate it to the thread you find more appropriate:

 

Toward a Definition of Religious Cinema - by Alissa Wilkinson

 

Here is a small project for a chilly Thursday night: let's rethink the way we talk about religious movies. (In other words, if you’re at the end of a long work day, maybe go pour your drink of choice and get fortified to help me out with some vaguely philosophical inquiry.)

This reflection is provoked by the nagging feeling I've had—I suspect you have, too—that there's a wide gulf between the various definitions of religious moviesthat we've been using. But because we're using the same word, I think we too easily get confused and talk past one another.

 


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

 

"Forget it, Jake. It's Funkytown."    

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Can't help wondering how many readers paused at the opening paragraph and its reference to "getting fortified" by a "drink".

 

I read Alissa's article shortly after it was posted, and found myself wondering afterwards if, by her definition, it would be possible to say that there are "Christian films" that are *not* "religious movies", because they are made by and for Christians and they reflect elements of the Christian subculture but they don't engage any particularly religious questions, e.g. Moms' Night Out.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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