10 overlooked movies for Holy Week

Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - March 29, 2013 - 1:56pm

MANILA, Philippines - Director Mel Gibson's controversial 2004 film Passion of the Christ has become a standard Holy Week feature in homes and venues, while Cecil B. Demile's classic The Ten Commandments in 1956 is present in every religious movie must-watch list elsewhere.

There are, however, dozens of other productions that would help Christians reflect on their faith and live the season of Lent more fully besides the typical movies shown and watched this time of the year.

Here is a short list of films of artistic and technical merits and with themes of faith and salvation you might have missed.

The Shoes of the Fisherman (Michael Anderson, 1963)

What it's about: A fictional story about Ukrainian Archbishop Kirl Lakota after spending decades as a political prisoner goes on to become a cardinal and eventually the pope. As the new Roman Pontiff, Kiril has to overcome profound self doubt while trying to find solutions to spiritual and world crises.

Why it's worthy to watch: The film presents as extensive catechesis on Catholic faith and doctrine while attempting to resolve modern-day questions challenging individual and institutional faith.

I Confess (Alfred Hitchcock, 1953)

What it's about: A priest who has learned details of a murder from a confession becomes a suspect in a police investigation.

Why it's worthy to watch: Besides that it's a film directed by master Alfred Hitchcock and starred by the time's favorite lead Montgomery Clift, I Confess is a Holy Week must-watch dwelling on a seemingly controversial conflict of interest between the church and the state.

A Man for All Seasons (Fred Zinnemann, 1966)

What it's about: Statesman Thomas More, historically the Lord Chancellor of England, defies King Henry Henry VIII who rejects Church doctrine to enact divorce in a predominantly Catholic 16th century England.

Why it's worthy to watch: More than just another movie about the makings of a saint, A Man for All Seasons is also a faithful rendering of a tumultuous time in the history of the Church and of a nation.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987, translated "Goodbye, My Children")

What it's about: An roughly autobiographical account of events at a boarding school run by priests and mainly untouched by the ongoing World War II. A new student Jean Bonnet, who turns out to be Jewish, puts the school, its students and staff in danger.

Why it's worthy to watch: This highly acclaimed production is a document of heroism, compassion and brotherly charity. It has equal doses of emotional and intellectual themes that impress, provoke and move audiences.

Babette's Feast (Gabriel Axel, 1987)

What it's about: Babette, a French refugee and a Catholic, arrives at a small town to beg two adult daughters of an honored Protestant sect leader to take her in as a maid and a cook. Babette holds a feast to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of the pastor after he died, spending her own good fortune to prepare the meals. She then prepares an elaborate feast, never before seen in the tiny village.

Why it's worthy to watch: Well performed and with attention to cinematic and culinary details, the film is a commentary on the connection of cultural and religious experiences and a testament to the value of work that transcends human meanings.

I Am David (Paul Feig, 2003)

What it's about: Communist camp prisoner David, a 12-year-old boy, escapes and travels across Europe in search for his identity and lost humanity.

Why it's worthy to watch: Although many would find its storytelling unrealistic, the movie successfully evokes emotion with its themes of courage, hope, growing up and the harsh realities of the world.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Franco Zeffirelli, 1972)

What it's about: This film follows the life of Saint Francis of Assisi as a privileged and spoiled young man who converts to denounce his worldly entitlements, finding an order of monks with an exquisite spirituality.

Why it's worthy to watch: The beautifully photographed and scored production largely contrasts with the multitude of movies made on the lives of different saints. Its merits lie not only on its magical narrative but on its rare technical qualities not only Catholics would appreciate. (Plus, it can be watched in full on YouTube!)

Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois, 2010)

What it's about: Based on real events, the film presents eight French Trappist monks residing in a poor community in Algeria whose lives are threatened by the growing influence of Muslim terrorists in the area. Refusing to leave the villagers and the monastery behind, the monks deal not only with external dangers but with doubts and fears among them.

Why it's worthy to watch: "(This) is a quiet, austere film that is more electrifying than a dozen action movies," top movie critic Colin Covert wrote. The film also won the grand prize at Cannes Film Festival and bagged the National Board of Review's Best Foreign Language Film award.

Ladri di Biciclette (Vittorio de Sica, 1948, translated "The Bicycle Thief")

What it's about: A simple plot of an unemployed man and his young son as they encounter the challenges of poverty told in groundbreaking artistic style.

Why it's worthy to watch: De Sica's neorealist masterpiece is a canon in filmmaking. Even with its unprecedented artistic qualities, the film is a lingering look into ordinary lives, social issues and quiet albeit enduring spirituality.

King of Kings (Nicholas Ray, 1961)

What it's about: "The life of Jesus Christ: The power, the passion, the greatness, the glory."

Why it's worthy to watch: If there should be a default Holy Week movie, King of Kings must replace The Ten Commandments as the latter is based on narratives in the Old Testament detached from pre-Easter practices in honor of Jesus, not Moses. King of Kings is simple, linear and straightforward with reasonable amounts of drama and context--just as good as a classic could get.

Images used above are properties of the movies' respective production companies.

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