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Season of the Witch

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

"I serve the church no more!" declares the main character in the baleful and boring medieval adventure "Season of the Witch" (Relativity). And, given the relentlessly negative picture of the era's Catholicism that screenwriter Bragi Schut and director Dominic Sena present throughout their film, it's little wonder he feels that way.

Said personage is a warrior named Behmen played, with much huffing and puffing and stomping about, by Nicolas Cage.

Together with his buddy and comrade Felson (Ron Perlman)—a dim bulb with a good heart—Crusader Behmen has mown down Muslim infidels by the thousands. But an atrocity involving the church-sponsored slaughter of innocent women and children causes a change of heart in both, and the friends go AWOL.

They find the territories through which they pass, as they make their way home, ravaged by the plague. (This is a somewhat surprising turn of events, given that, in the real world, the end of the last crusade preceded the outbreak of the Black Death in Europe by more than 70 years. But we digress.)

Eventually identified as deserters from the sacred cause, Behmen and Felson are brought before the horribly disfigured and dying Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee) for judgment. He threatens them with incarceration—and perhaps worse—unless they agree to escort a young unnamed prisoner (Claire Foy) to a distant abbey so she can stand trial as a witch whose black magic has given rise to the fatal pest.

Accompanied by Father Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), the priest responsible for the accused sorceress' interrogation (we're shown the grim scars that process has produced), and by a motley crew of others, the pals set out on their rather less than epic journey.

Amid these proceedings, Schut and Sena dredge up every hoary cliche about the period from a con man pilloried for selling bogus relics (Stephen Graham) to a procession of flagellants scourging themselves to repel pestilence. Later, Debelzaq proves himself so ignorant of his faith that he begins Christianity's most famous prayer by saying, "Our Lord who art in heaven."

Not surprisingly, then, in the climactic showdown between good and evil, Debelzaq and the others rely not on the Bible or the established rituals of the church but on a fictional version of an occult text called the Key of Solomon. As recited onscreen, this turns out to consist largely of Latin gibberish with some phrases from the extraordinary form of the liturgy thrown in for no very apparent reason.

One need not be blind to the serious shortcomings that characterized the human element of the church during the Middle Ages to recognize as gross caricature its portrayal here as a superstitious, oppressive force against which this forgettable action outing's central figures nobly rebel.

The film contains pervasive anti-Catholic bias, occult themes, brief partial nudity, much -- mostly bloodless -- violence, some gruesome images, at least one use of the S-word and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Bruno: This saint has the honor of having founded a religious order which, as the saying goes, has never had to be reformed because it was never deformed. No doubt both the founder and the members would reject such high praise, but it is an indication of the saint's intense love of a penitential life in solitude. 
<p>Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, became a famous teacher at Rheims and was appointed chancellor of the archdiocese at the age of 45. He supported Pope Gregory VII in his fight against the decadence of the clergy and took part in the removal of his own scandalous archbishop, Manasses. Bruno suffered the plundering of his house for his pains. </p><p>He had a dream of living in solitude and prayer, and persuaded a few friends to join him in a hermitage. After a while he felt the place unsuitable and, through a friend, was given some land which was to become famous for his foundation "in the Chartreuse" (from which comes the word Carthusians). The climate, desert, mountainous terrain and inaccessibility guaranteed silence, poverty and small numbers. </p><p>Bruno and his friends built an oratory with small individual cells at a distance from each other. They met for Matins and Vespers each day and spent the rest of the time in solitude, eating together only on great feasts. Their chief work was copying manuscripts. </p><p>The pope, hearing of Bruno's holiness, called for his assistance in Rome. When the pope had to flee Rome, Bruno pulled up stakes again, and spent his last years (after refusing a bishopric) in the wilderness of Calabria. </p><p>He was never formally canonized, because the Carthusians were averse to all occasions of publicity. However Pope Clement X extended his feast to the whole Church in 1674.</p> American Catholic Blog The saints in heaven love and care for us, and so it is fitting that we pray to them and ask for their prayers, as we on earth assist one another through prayer.

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