For many years I have been coming to the Berlinale and this year I have felt God in many films, especially those calling out to the Christian believer. Both in the films THE PRAYER (La priere) by French Cedric Kahn and THE BEST THING YOU CAN DO WITH YOUR LIFEby Zita Erffa we see young men trying to decide what path they should follow.
In the French film, 22-year-old Thomas (Anthony Bajon) seems to be following the path of death due to his incurable drug addiction. His last chance is when he lands in a detox community in some remote mountains which has many young men from different countries and social backgrounds. It is run by a Catholic priest, who believes that a hard regiment, which is extremely strict and strenuous, will set you free from the demons of addiction. The group has a regiment of prayer, meals and hard labor in the fields and with time we see some make progress while others struggle to overcome their addictions and sometimes it even leads to death. Thomas prays and needs to decide where his calling will lead him. As he begins to pray harder, the choices also become harder until he meets a young woman in the neighborhood who helps him find his way.
In contrast to The Prayer, in Zita Erffa’s documentary, we see two siblings grow up in a family open to the world. Having a Spanish-speaking mother and a German father who moved around the world a lot has made the family value home as a connection among the inhabitants and not a place. The one thing that was always constant as they grew up were summer camps where they would meet friends; these camps were run by the Legionaire of Christ. First her best friend, then her brother’s best friend joined the group and wanted to become counselors. While travelling in Mexico, she got word that her brother joined, despite the fact he said he would never join.
This suddenly turned their relationship upside down because he was also not allowed to have any contact to the family during his education. This lack of communication and understanding created suspicion, anger and the lack of trust on Zita’s part. She finally pushed to make a film to try to understand what happened to her brother. Was he part of a cult? Was he being brainwashed to become a priest? Did he think about the family and how his choice had an impact on them? The film goes beyond the public space and we see two siblings open up and try to understand each other’s decisions which are very different paths.
The film Maria Magdalene (not a Berlinale film) by director Garth Davis transforms Maria (Rooney Mara) from a harlot into one of Jesus’s prophets, correcting an historical political intent of Pope Gregory the Great. Perfectly timed at Easter, it should inspire more women to join the church. It seems to be the first time that there are a lot of positive films on Christianity as well as films inspiring the general public to join the religious order. It’s something that has been missing from the scene for quite a long time. Are all these positive stories coming because there are fewer priests than before? Are we feeling threatened by all the refugees who are bringing their religions with them as they march their way across the globe? It is certainly something to watch and see where our society is heading.