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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Magic in the Moonlight

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in a scene from the movie "Magic in the Moonlight."
Within the enchanting French Riviera setting of "Magic in the Moonlight" (Sony Pictures Classics), an age-old debate simmers between faith and reason, between a strictly rationalist standpoint and openness to divine providence.

Writer-director Woody Allen has always preferred nihilism to optimism, and this, his 44th film, does not vary in outlook. It's a pity, as his deeply cynical view toward matters spiritual sours what is otherwise a lovely travelogue with entertaining, if not particularly amusing, performances.

It's the Roaring Twenties in Berlin, and Stanley (Colin Firth) is a master illusionist. Posing as Wei Ling Soo, a Chinese magician, he wows audiences by sawing women in half and making a live elephant disappear.

Behind the scenes, Stanley is a nasty misanthrope, described by his friend and fellow conjurer, Howard (Simon McBurney), as "a genius with all the charm of a typhus epidemic."

Stanley has a sideline: debunker of spiritualists, charlatans who claim to communicate with the dead, defrauding innocent people in the process.

To Stanley, the world is only understood through science and logic. Anything to do with God, faith, or the afterlife is, he claims, "all phony, from the seance table to the Vatican and beyond."

It's no wonder he channels the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in stating, "If we are to get through life, we must delude ourselves." That's ironic, for a man who makes his living tricking audiences into believing anything is possible.

Howard persuades Stanley to accompany him to the south of France, where Grace (Jacki Weaver), a rich American widow, has become enchanted by her fellow countryman, comely clairvoyant Sophie (Emma Stone).

Arms flailing and shivering from "mental vibrations," the wide-eyed Sophie is a wonder to behold. After she "contacts" Grace's dead husband, Grace is ready to hand over the family fortune, and her smitten son, Brice (Hamish Linklater), proposes marriage.

This is all too much for Brice's sister, Caroline (Erica Leerhsen), and her psychiatrist husband, George (Jeremy Shamos). They bring in Howard and Stanley to expose Sophie as a trickster and fraud.

Predictably, Stanley's eyes are opened and his hard heart is melted by Sophie's charms and her rather convincing supernatural powers which, she insists, give hope to those who despair.

Mystified and lovesick, Stanley finds himself questioning his own narrow worldview, especially on matters of faith.

With his dearly loved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) lying gravely ill in the hospital, Stanley turns to God -- that "benevolent father figure out there" -- for help.

"I don't have all the answers," he prays. "It is possible that we are here by design, and you could be real."

It's a startling turnaround for an atheist. But as this is a Woody Allen film, there are twists in store. Suffice it to say that believing moviegoers will soon realize they've been led down an attractive but dead-end garden path.

The film contains a cynical view of faith and religion, brief sexual humor and mature references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under

*****
Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Francis of Paola: Francis of Paola was a man who deeply loved contemplative solitude and wished only to be the "least in the household of God." Yet, when the Church called him to active service in the world, he became a miracle-worker and influenced the course of nations. 
<p>After accompanying his parents on a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, he began to live as a contemplative hermit in a remote cave near Paola, on Italy's southern seacoast. Before he was 20, he received the first followers who had come to imitate his way of life. Seventeen years later, when his disciples had grown in number, Francis established a Rule for his austere community and sought Church approval. This was the founding of the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, who were approved by the Holy See in 1474.</p><p>In 1492, Francis changed the name of his community to "Minims" because he wanted them to be known as the least (<i>minimi</i>) in the household of God. Humility was to be the hallmark of the brothers as it had been in Francis's personal life. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Francis enjoined upon his followers the fourth obligation of a perpetual Lenten fast. He felt that heroic mortification was necessary as a means for spiritual growth. </p><p>It was Francis's desire to be a contemplative hermit, yet he believed that God was calling him to the apostolic life. He began to use the gifts he had received, such as the gifts of miracles and prophecy, to minister to the people of God. A defender of the poor and oppressed, Francis incurred the wrath of King Ferdinand of Naples for the admonitions he directed toward the king and his sons. </p><p>Following the request of Pope Sixtus IV, Francis traveled to Paris to help Louis XI of France prepare for his death. While ministering to the king, Francis was able to influence the course of national politics. He helped to restore peace between France and Brittany by advising a marriage between the ruling families, and between France and Spain by persuading Louis XI to return some disputed land. </p><p>Francis died while at the French court.</p> American Catholic Blog The Holy Thursday liturgy focuses on the body of Christ. The washed feet belong to the body of Christ. The blessed bread actually becomes the Body of Christ. It is offered to all with the simple words: “The Body of Christ.” We not only receive the Body of Christ; we are called the body of Christ.


 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Holy Thursday
The Church remembers today both the institution of the Eucharist and our mandate to service.

Wednesday of Holy Week
Today keep in prayer all the priests and ministers throughout the world who will preside at Holy Week services.

Tuesday of Holy Week
While Lent has a penitential character, it is also a time for reflecting on the baptismal commitment we make as Christians.

Monday of Holy Week
Holy Week reminds us of the price Jesus paid for our salvation. Take time for prayer at home and at church.

Palm Sunday
Holy Week services and prayers invite us to follow Jesus into Jerusalem, experiencing the events of his passion and death.




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