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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Calvary

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Kelly Reilly and Brendan Gleeson star in a scene from the movie "Calvary."
Set in rural Ireland, the bleak but powerful seriocomedy "Calvary" (Fox Searchlight) kicks off with a startling premise.

In the confessional, a grown victim of childhood sex abuse by a priest tells Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson), the dedicated pastor of the County Sligo parish where he now lives, that in a week's time he intends to avenge himself by killing the innocent clergyman.

With the perpetrator of the crimes against him dead, and despairing of being healed by therapy, Father James' unseen interlocutor reasons that it would be a futile gesture to slay a bad priest. But to take the life of a good cleric, that would certainly be an act that would draw people's attention.

This opening scene, which establishes the kind of extreme situation that such Catholic authors as Graham Greene or Flannery O'Connor might once have played on, also makes it clear, through the sufferer's harshly candid description of his experiences, that this is not a film for the summer popcorn set.

Mature viewers prepared for rugged material, on the other hand, will likely consider their investment of time and attention well rewarded.

As writer-director John Michael McDonagh chronicles the seven days that follow Father James' life-threatening encounter, we learn that this thoroughly decent but otherwise ordinary man of the cloth is a widower and father ordained after his wife's death. This aspect of his past is revealed when his emotionally fragile, Dublin-based daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly), comes to town, looking for his support in the wake of a romantic crisis.

Along with nurturing Fiona, Father James also tends to the varied needs of the errant or merely eccentric souls who make up his small flock.

They include Jack (Chris O'Dowd), the local butcher, a wronged husband who's not overly anxious to reconcile with his wife, Veronica (Orla O'Rourke); Michael (Dylan Moran), a shady business tycoon out to use a donation to the church to assuage his conscience; Frank (Aiden Gillen), an atheist doctor who has nothing but contempt for believers; and Gerard (M. Emmet Walsh), an elderly expatriate American novelist who hopes to evade a lingering end by committing suicide.

They're a challenging lot, but Father James does his best with each. Less laudable is his response to the plight of socially awkward, sexually frustrated bachelor Milo (Killian Scott). Unsettlingly, Father James advises Milo to move to a city where he'll probably find the girls more open to his casual advances.

As with an exchange in which Father James and his weasel-like curate, Father Timothy (David Wilmot), discuss the content of a parishioner's recent confession far too openly, this off-kilter interaction with Milo may raise the hackles of Catholic moviegoers. At least in the case of the penitent, however, there are extenuating pastoral circumstances.

Such incidental flaws notwithstanding, overall, McDonagh is mostly respectful, if unsparing, in his treatment of the contemporary church as he ably explores a range of hefty themes -- faith, moral failure, reconciliation and sacrifice among them.

He's sustained throughout by Gleeson's memorable performance during which we watch Father James display understandable uncertainty about how to respond to the existential threat confronting him. Should he arm himself? Involve the police? Flee the vicinity until the danger has past? Or should he offer himself in Christ-like expiation for the sins of others?

Watching him decide makes for thoughtful drama, though the demands of the process mean that the appropriate audience for "Calvary" remains a narrow one.

The film contains brief but extremely gory violence, drug use, mature themes, including clergy sexual abuse, homosexual prostitution and suicide, a few uses of profanity and much rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Anthony Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.

 
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