Calvary, an exquisite film

Set in rural Ireland, Calvary is the penetrating story of a Catholic priest, Father James Lavelle (a brilliant Brendan Gleeson), his ministry and his treatment at the hands of his parishioners. Sweeping views of a beautiful, but empty landscape focus in on a small Irish village and a select number of characters, echoing a story that is large in scope but detailed in its focus.

The context is framed by the faceless confession of one of James’s parishioners and the Father’s face-to-face meeting with the same man exactly a week later. In the initial conversation, the confessor tells James that as a child he was abused by a Catholic Priest. He vows to wreak his revenge by killing the, albeit innocent, Father James. What follows is a week of Father James continuing with his normal ministry, but in the face of mounting animosity.

This film could be about the Catholic Church’s sordid history of covered-up child abuse. It could be about its exoneration. It could be about man’s loss of faith in the centuries-old Catholic faith. Or man’s desperate clinging to a purpose higher than himself. On the face of it, the film could simply reflect the ironic Christian reversal of a priest “crucified” for the church’s sins against its own.

Calvary is about all of these and much more. It’s a story about real people and their real, individual struggles. From Father Leary, to the atheist doctor; from the homosexual policeman, to the oversexed housewife; from Father James’s daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly), to others in between.

Every individual is a complex, well-developed character with a past, and with deep serious issues. Father James is just the counterpoint in this well-balanced, exquisitely acted film.

Calvary is a profound film that is a credit to director and writer John Michael McDonagh. It opens at NuMetro cinemas in South Africa on 12 September.

Brendan Gleeson finely plays the role of Father James Lavelle in Calvary. Photo: Creative Commons

Brendan Gleeson finely plays the role of Father James Lavelle in Calvary. Photo: Creative Commons.


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