Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Films Give Answers, Others Ask Questions

The Academy Awards and Golden Globe Awards are not the only “best of” film lists.

Have you seen “Babette’s Feast,” “The Wind Will Carry Us” or “Ikuru?”

Over the past several years I’ve seen some excellent films, thanks to the annual Arts & Faith Top 100 Films list that comes out every year around this time. This is a “top films for all time” list. It’s compiled every year so as to include films made the previous year and to reflect the viewing of the Arts & Faith community.

The Arts & Faith list is characterized by films of artistic excellence—often beautifully filmed—and which grapple with questions of spirituality and religion.

I must admit, watching some of these movies—many which are foreign and independent—is a stretch. When we’re done watching one of these films, the husband and I talk about it. We ask questions. I often find myself, several days later, still thinking about it.

Like “Ordet,” a Danish film written, produced and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. “Ordet” is a story about Morten Borgen, a prosperous farmer whose three sons are giving him cause to worry. The oldest, Mikkel, has renounced the religious beliefs of his forebears, claiming that he no longer has even “faith in faith.” The second, Johannes, has gone mad from too much study and now claims to be Jesus of Nazareth. The youngest, Anders, is in love with a young woman whose religion puts her family at odds with the elder Borgen.

The story seems to focus on the Romeo-and-Juliet plight of Anders, while it’s also concerned with Mikkel’s pregnant wife. But then there’s Johannes, in a dazed state, reciting scripture like a running commentary. If you’ve never heard the Bible quoted in this way, it’s quite jarring. As the story unfolds, you wonder who really is nuts.

Several of my all-time favorite movies are on the Arts & Faith list: “Chariots of Fire,” “Magnolia” and “Babette’s Feast.”

“Babette’s Feast,” another Danish film, takes place in 19th century Denmark. It’s about two adult sisters who live in an isolated village where their father had founded a small sect-like Protestant church. One night, Babette, a French refugee, arrives at their door, begging them to take her in. Although the sisters cannot pay her, they take Babette in as a housekeeper and cook. Several years later, the sisters decide to hold a dinner to commemorate their father’s 100th birthday. Babette, who has recently won a lottery, begs the sisters to allow her to prepare the meal.

The sisters and, indeed, the whole village, become concerned about the rich foods and alcohol that Babette (a Catholic and a foreigner) may serve to them. But Babette cooks up the feast of a lifetime for the church members and an unexpected guest.

The Arts & Faith folks are interested in arts of all ilks, with cinema among their favorites. Some are film critics, published in such places as Paste, The National Catholic Register and Relevant. I love reading and, occasionally, participating in their film discussions.

Perhaps when you think of “Christian” movies, what comes to mind is “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Ten Commandments.” Or worse, “Left Behind.”

But, “Christian media have in recent years tended to celebrated art and entertainment for its ‘evangelical potential,’ ” writes Jeffrey Overstreet in his introduction to the Arts & Faith Top 100 Films. “In other words, many Christians have become so concerned about the usefulness of art as a tool of ministry and evangelism, they’ve forgotten—or never known in the first place—what art really is, and how it works.”

Never was this made so clear as when “The Passion of the Christ” was doing its pre-release marketing. Movie trailers played in evangelical churches across the country on Sunday morning with the goal to “train your members to invite their friends …”. Yup. Can you say Corporatist Christian Consumer?

My point being that after you see such a movie, there’s not a whole bunch to talk about, except things like “Did you see this? Did you see that?” Not much mystery there.

The films I’ve seen on the Arts & Faith list have not handed out answers, but invited questions. Asking questions is how we begin searching.

And is it not honest searching that ultimately may lead us to God?

No comments: