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.

Philomena a touching film, but puzzling at the climax

A review by Brenda Daniels

Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench in the title role, is a drama based on a true story. Its plot revolves around Irishwoman Philomena Lee’s search for her son, adopted when he was just four. Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a former British Labour Party member, writes her story and helps her in her search.

The story was eventually published (in real life) and revealed the shocking practice of a Catholic convent’s cruelty towards unwed mothers and their babies during the 1950s.

Philomena is played by two actresses – Sophie Kennedy Clark as the young Philomena and Dench as the 70-year-old Philomena. Philomena, along with other young women like herself, was sent to a convent in Roscrea, Tipperary, as penance for falling pregnant out of wedlock. Here the girls are made to work hard and allowed to see their children for only an hour a day.

Gradually, the children mysteriously disappear, ostensibly adopted by wealthy couples, without the mothers’ permissions.

Having always longed to find her son, Philomena, now 70, accidentally comes across Sixsmith, who she enlists to write her story. Martin is a typically cynical journalist, more so because he was recently “given the sack”.

Philomena is a simple, forgiving Irish woman with a firm Catholic faith despite the startling cruelty the convent meted out to her. The two characters and their differing reactions to events create the tension – and humour – in the story.

The pair’s search takes them to the USA where they find traces of Anthony (Philomena’s name for her son) or Michael (as he was renamed). It is while in the USA that the story takes a revealing turn, sending Philomena and Sixsmith back to the Irish convent where their investigations first began.

Despite physically speaking to people in America, I thought Martin and Philomena’s visit to the States a bit unrealistic, given today’s worldwide web search capabilities. I also found the penultimate scene in the film a puzzling one. It at once reveals Philomena’s poignant grace and takes the oomph out of an otherwise beautifully told, very touching story.

Philomena is rated 13L, runs for one and a half hours and opened at NuMetro theatres in South Africa on 28 March.

Judi Dench plays the leading role in Philomena. Dench has been nominated for several awards for the role.

Judi Dench plays the leading role in Philomena. Dench has been nominated for several awards for the role.

 

Lead up to the award ceremony: Cinema Nouveau Announces Pre-Release Screenings of Three Multi-Nominated Oscar Contenders

Each of the three pre-release titles, August: Osage County, Nebraska and Philomena, will have one screening each at 8pm on 24, 26 and 27 February respectively, at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres at Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg, Brooklyn Mall in Pretoria, Gateway in Durban and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Bookings are now open for these three special pre-Oscar screenings.

The talented Meryl Streep, who is no stranger to the Best Actress category, is once again nominated in this category for her role in August: Osage County, which will be pre-released at the four Cinema Nouveau theatres on Monday, 24 February at 8pm. Another big Hollywood name, Julia Roberts, shares the screen with her in this film and is up for Best Supporting Actress.

On Wednesday, 26 February at 8pm, Cinema Nouveau audiences are transported to another American state with the pre-release of Nebraska. With an impressive six Oscar nominations, for Best Picture, Best Actor – Bruce Dern, Best Supporting Actress – June Squibb, Cinematography, Best Director – Alexander Payne, and Original Screenplay, this black-and-white masterpiece explores another complex family relationship.

With four Oscar nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress – Judi Dench, Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay – Philomena plays on the Cinema Nouveau circuit at 8pm on Thursday, 27 February. It releases nationally on 28 March.

When former journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is dismissed from the Labour Party in disgrace, he is at a loss as to what to do. All that changes when a young Irish woman approaches him about a story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench), who had her son taken away when she was a teenage inmate of a Catholic convent. Martin arranges a magazine assignment about Philomena’s search for her son that eventually leads to America. Along the way, Martin and Philomena discover as much about each other as about her son’s fate, as their basic beliefs are challenged.

Cinema Nouveau audiences can watch these films and make their predictions before the winner of “Best Picture is announced during the early hours of 3 March.

The full list of nominees vying for this prestigious award are: Gravity; Captain Phillips; American Hustle; Dallas Buyers Club; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave; and The Wolf of Wall Street.

For more information and to make a booking, visit www.sterkinekor.com or www.cinemanouveau.co.za. Call Ticketline on 082 16789.

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 2009 Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)

The 31st Academy Awards (Source: Creative Commons)