Tag Archives: religion

Critics Choice at Beau Cinema: Silence

Silence movie posterAs pointed out by Wynter Tyson (one of the curators of the #CriticsChoice series at Beau Cinema) during his introduction to this screening of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the revered director has, throughout his career, often explored elements of faith in his work.

From the more obvious in the The Last a Temptation Of Christ to references in Gangs of New York to, arguably, a mirroring of a kind of corrupted faith in Wolf of Wall StreetSilence though follows Last Temptation in being a more direct take on the subject.

The film tells the story of a pair for Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a mission to Japan in the 17th century to continue the development of Christianity in the country and seek out the fate of their teacher, Padre Ferreira (Liam Neeson).

From the start, a fog shrouded scene featuring severed heads and a particularly unique and specific form of torture being administered to a group of Christian priests told from the point of view of Ferreira, it’s clear this is going to be a deep, dark journey and exploration of faith, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Silence movie - Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver

Garfield and Driver

While Scorsese is perfectly adept at everything from b-movie style fare to bright modern drama, here he more than proves why he is as regarded as he is as one of Hollywood’s best directors.

Every moment of Silence feels created with all aspects coming together to create something all-encompassing.

The sound design particularly stands out (as the title might suggest) being very low-key but highlighting what it needs to without resorting to the grand sweeping orchestrations or stereotypically ethnic sounds a lesser director might.

Silence - Liam Neeson


This allows the visuals, which range from the rusticity beautiful to the genuinely brutal, to really stand out and strike in a way that is never melodramatic, giving the whole thing a sense of realism that is really absorbing.

While Liam Neeson’s appearance feels something like an extended cameo in the mould of his turns as Qui-Gon Jin in The Phantom Menace or Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins (just a little more serious) and Adam Driver brings an impressive intensity to Padre Francisco Garupe, it is Andrew Garfield who owns the film.

Garfield, as Padre Sebastião Rodrigues, is the film’s centre and really, despite the historical themes surrounding him, it is his journey that is the central plot.

We watch him struggle with his faith both physically and psychologically in a way that is (for the most part) brilliantly understated but gradually works its way into a truly effective and effecting place that shows a side to him I honestly never thought possible based on his pair of outings as Spider-Man (an unfair comparison I realise, but it makes the point).

Silence - Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson

Garfield and Neeson

While I’m not sure the film effected me on the spiritual level that it would Scorsese, or indeed anyone of a more religious or spiritual bent, Silence is a genuinely impressive piece of cinema.

It both manages to capture a period of history I knew not as much about and also allows space for a very real feeling story to be told without resorting to typical over the top cinematic tricks to manipulate its audience or rushing to explain every last thing, meaning it will likely sit in the back of my mind for a good while to come.

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One song I clearly remember liking a lot when I first heard it when I was a child was Iron, Lion, Zion. To be honest I’ve no idea why it struck me so, but since then Bob Marley’s music has always sat on the edge of my musical consciousness while always retaining a certain place in there.

Despite this I didn’t really know much about the man himself, or the culture that produced such a distinctive sound, so I came to Marley eager to learn more.

When it comes to his story, it is a fairly simple and well-travelled one, in essence, as it’s a rags to riches tale of a young outcast boy from a very rural background finding fame and fortune and some of the potential troubles he encounters along the way – in this case women and gangsters (though we get the impression that to Marley himself these weren’t too much of a problem, but maybe were to those around him).

Besides the fairly run of the mill story, what is most interesting about Marley is its exploration of the culture that Marley’s music comes from and the cultural impact it had around the world.

Of course a major influence on Marley and his music was religion, in particular the Rastafari movement.

The impression this film gives is that, while Marley himself was influenced early on in his career by the faith as it grew in Jamaica, and he was present when Haile Selassie visited the island, by the time of his death Marley had become such a figure in Jamaican and Rastafari culture his funeral was treated much like the visit of the Ethiopian Emperor.

Having been made with the direct involvement of Marley’s family leads me to a certain amount of skepticism with this story, but the archive footage of the funeral does certainly demonstrate how much of a revered figure he was in his home country.

The brief exploration of some of the main features of Rastafarianism and its relationship to Selassie was certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the film as this is, something I had previously heard of but had no understanding of, and that the belief that Revelations discusses a type of music that will spread around the world, of course here believed to be reggae, quickly and easily explains why there is such a strong link between the faith and the music and, therefore, arguable the most internationally successful reggae artist ever, Bob Marley.

The other major aspect the film deals with feels, in comparison, a little bit soap opera, as we hear about and form some of the women Marley had relationships with (seemingly most while married to his wife Rita).

What this shows is an odd aspect that again relates back to the religion and, more so, to the spread and promotion of Jamaican culture that Marley seemed to embody, as his wife says she looked past it as she saw how important his work and music were and, towards the end, she says she even brought together as many of his children as she could to take them to Miami to see Bob just before he died – if anything this demonstrates a huge strength in her character while saying something that is left ambiguous about Marley’s.

Production-wise Marley is a slightly odd film. While it is clearly a fairly high budget production that travels the world and is shot very well there are some elements, which were reminiscent of some amateur documentaries I have seen over the years, particularly in the use of captions.

This is an odd thing as most mainstream, high-end, documentaries these days will use the visuals and the interviewees to explain things without extra captions as this feels like something of an old-fashioned device and at times, particularly at the start of the film, they did take me out of the movie a little bit more than I would have liked.

While Marley certainly is an interesting movie, and sheds light on the life and culture of a performer who had always had a place in my musical life (albeit one I can’t exactly nail down), it also suffers from a couple of problems mostly based on trying to tell us too much and therefore is a little on the long side for a casual viewer (which I consider myself here) and at times seems to become a bit of a structural mess.

However, in its best moments it is enthralling and enlightening and certainly shows how such an outcast boy from rural Jamaica managed to spread a message, and more importantly his music, to the entire world.

And here’s Iron, Lion, Zion:

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Red State

Kevin Smith delivers an intriguing but flawed look the state of American (and western) society in his latest picture.

Since I first saw Dogma, what must have been 12 or so years ago, I have been an avid follower of the work of Kevin Smith.

From the genius of Clerks, and the other ‘Askewniverse’ films, to the near career suicide of Cop Out, I have been at least interested to see what Smith has put together (with the exception of Jersey Girl which I’ve still not brought myself to watch), so it was with great interest that I came to Red State.

I’d heard that this was something of a departure compared to the previous indie-fare, over sentimental rom-coms and ill-advised buddy cop pictures, into more grown up and certainly more extreme territory, and in one of these I was certainly not disappointed.

In many ways Red State starts like many of Smith’s films with a close-knit group of late teens talking about sex, a pre-occupation throughout the former Silent Bob’s canon, but rather than leading to the mall and a series of fantastic events, here it leads to an extreme right-wing church, torture, murder and a Waco style shootout – all including the aforementioned extreme (for Kevin Smith) gore and violence.

Throughout Smith’s work he has been accused variously of both sexism and homophobia, but, up until now, it has been clear that actually this is not the case as it is never the characters we are meant to sympathise with who express these opinions – except maybe Jay, but then he is really only half a character balanced out by his “hetero life mate” Silent Bob.

Michael Parks as Paster Abin Cooper

Here however, as the ‘sermon’ from Michael Parks’ Pastor Abin Cooper (a clear Fred Phelps cypher) goes on, at great length, I did begin to wonder about the homophobia issue.

While once again it is the ‘bad guys’ who express the negative opinions, at no point are they really counteracted, with the only potentially gay character in the rest of the film being the closeted sheriff who is driven to drink and contemplates suicide because of his situation (though again influenced by the ‘church’).

This is where Smith’s seeming attempt at making a grown up statement in Red State begins to crumble, and this is not resolved as the film goes on.

Sure, he makes a clear point that extremist religion, and groups like the Westboro Baptist Church, are not a good thing, that gun laws in the US are open to abuse and that government agencies are not always the most trustworthy and public-spirited bunch, but none of this is delivered in a way that makes any more of a statement than the rants one finds in the comment sections of news websites and leaves the film feeling ultimately empty.

John Goodman as the closest thing Red State has to a hero

Also, plot wise, the ending of the film (which I won’t spoil) feels like something of a cop out (pun intended), but by this point the film is in such a mess I’m not sure any ending would have been satisfactory to make it make the sense it seems to want to make.

All that said, there were a few laughs in the film, but as a whole it was a very messy and unbalanced film that fails in its attempt to deal with more ‘grown up’ issues than Smith’s past work.

It definitely seems Smith has moved well beyond the days of Dante and Randall and Jay and Silent Bob (for better or worse), but if Red State is anything to go by, he’s not yet found what comes next, though 10 out of 10 for trying, and this is far from an uninteresting film.

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