Since the advent of cinema, faith has been treated on film in a wide variety of ways, from the respectful to the satiric. As any number of pictures from Hollywood's golden age might be used to demonstrate, however, a reverential approach to the subject of religious belief does not by itself a thoughtful movie make. With the church's observance of the Year of Faith continuing, here in alphabetical order are capsule reviews of 10 films which engage with this often elusive topic in an accomplished and illuminating manner. Sometimes directly, in other cases only by subtle implication, these screen parables provide viewers with insights into the nature of faith - as well as its effects.
Andrei Rublev (1969) Russian production about a 15th-century monk (Anatoli Solonitzine) who perseveres in painting icons and other religious art despite the civil disruptions and cruel turmoil of his times. Director Andrei Tarkovsky visualizes brilliantly the story of a devout man seeking through his art to find the transcendent in the savagery of the Tartar invasions and the unfeeling brutality of Russian nobles. Subtitles. Stylized historical violence.
Babette's Feast (1988) Screen version of a story by Isak Dinesen, set in a rugged Danish fishing village in 1871, shows the impact of a French housekeeper (Stephane Audran) on two pious sisters who carry on their late father's work as pastor of a dwindling religious flock. The conclusion follows the preparation and consumption of an exquisite French meal, with focus on its sensual and religious implications and its healing effect on the austere sect and the Frenchwoman who prepares it. Danish director Gabriel Axel's low-key and understated work is rich with detail and fine, controlled performances. Subtitles. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G -- general audiences.
Brother Orchid (1940) Seriocomic tale of a gang boss (Edward G. Robinson) returning from a vacation in Europe to find his mob has a new leader (Humphrey Bogart), but he escapes being rubbed-out by hiding in a monastery where he works as a gardener while plotting his come-back -- until he has a change of heart. Director Lloyd Bacon mixes some droll comedy and a bit of spiritual uplifting into a standard crime melodrama, with surprisingly agreeable results. Stylized violence and criminal menace.
The Fugitive (1947) Underrated screen version of Graham Greene's novel, The Power and the Glory, about an all-too-human priest (Henry Fonda) who is hunted down by a puritanical officer (Pedro Armendariz) after the Mexican Revolution proscribes the free practice of religion. Director John Ford's flawed masterpiece uses deeply felt religious symbolism in telling the story of a weak man who, despite his fear of death, continues ministering to the spiritual needs of a poor community. Menacing atmosphere might be inappropriate for young children.
FULL STORY Top 10 parables of faith on screen