Catholics at the movies
The new Roland Joffé film, “There Be Dragons,” about Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer opened today and didn’t receive the best of reviews: Entertainment Weekly (EW to you) gave it a C+, and the New York Times review wasn’t much better. (Then again, “Thor” got hammered. Call the Heathen League for Irreligious and Civil Rights.)
“There Be Dragons” did give many of us in the trade a chance to write about the evolution of Opus Dei, among other things (as I tried to do in today’s Wall Street Journal), and Joffé’s many interviews on the film were perhaps more profound than the movie itself. (This “wobbly agnostic” directed “The Mission” and is drawn to spiritual topics. Read his Q&A with Dan Burke of Religion News Service.)
Lest you think the bad review of “The Be Dragons” is further proof of the congenital perfidy of The New York Times when it comes to things Catholic, there was a small review of another movie, “Vito Bonafacci,” which I’d never heard of and which seems unlikely to get much notice. Perhaps it deserves better. The review in toto:
Between Hollywood’s reliable mining of the exorcism vein (as in “The Rite”) and its coming appreciation of the vampire-slaying action hero in “Priest,” recent studio releases suggest that men of the cloth are needed only to deal with the supernaturally horrific. So “Vito Bonafacci,” an earnest film about a lapsed Roman Catholic in spiritual crisis, is a welcome reminder of religion’s true work.
A first feature written and directed by John Martoccia, this simple film tells an age-old tale. The title character (played by Paul Borghese) is a well-off contractor shaken by a nightmare in which he dies of a heart attack, and his dead mother tells him that his pursuit of “money, power, status and pleasure” had led him astray and that he should have stayed close to “the one true living God.”
The film follows Vito through his day as he asks his wife and employees if he is a good man, whether they believe in heaven and hell, what role the church plays in their lives. In flashback, he recalls lessons about the rosary from earlier Catholic teachers. By the evening, he has reached out to his local priest, who comes to his mansion, takes his confession, even celebrates Communion. Vito is renewed, more certain of his faith and fate.
Effectively a tutorial on some basic Catholic rituals, this isn’t a great film — too many scenes are static or clumsily acted — but it is elevated by the touches of neorealist style in its small-bore focus and its soundtrack of classical compositions and Italian music from the 12th and 13th centuries. In a world fixated on bombast, “Vito Bonafacci” offers a quiet haven for meaningful meditation.
Let anyone who sees it weigh in.