videocam Religion in Cinema

reviewed by Nick Burton

Published in Issue No. 21 ~ February, 1999

Religion is one of the cinema’s great subjects, and there are so many movies that touch on religion and faith in so many different ways that it was difficult to begin a column on the subject. There are entire filmographies of directors whose works all have a spiritual base (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson), so to limit it to a few choices proved a daunting task. The four films I chose are linked by an intensely personal view of faith, God, nature, and religion as a political force. (The last film mentioned here, The Devils, has some wonderful parallels with our current political situation.) Also worth the trouble: Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Maurice Pialat’s Under the Sun of Satan, Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Jacques Rivette’s The Nun.

Click on the title to read the full review

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

“Pasolini steadfastly refuses to dip into the standard images of faith put forth by the Church. Here, Palm Sunday looks like Twig Sunday, and Salome’s dance for Herod is a chaste dance that has nothing to do with veils, but everything with the discreet charm of the upper classes, the “generation of vipers.”….”

The Devils (1971)

Directed by Ken Russell

“[F]or those up to the challenge, this is amazingly potent stuff. When the film is over, one is thankful not to live in 17th century France, or for that matter, in any society where one of its leaders could be unfairly persecuted by politics….”

Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East? (1989)

Directed by Bae Yong-Kyun

“The problem with the pop-culturization of film is that it has perilously lowered the attention span of the average filmgoer to the point where it seems positively atavistic to recommend a film like Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?….”

Simon of the Desert (1965)

Directed by Luis Buñuel

“This 45-minute short film begins as Simon – atop his column now for six years, six months and six days – is presented with a new, higher-to-Heaven column by a family who he had miraculously cured of illness….”

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Nick Burton lives in Newport Beach, California. His fiction has appeared in many small press and web publications, inlcuding: Chronicles Of Fiction, Pauper, and of course Pif.