THIS is not the first time we have had a film about a gay priest
in love, although In the Name Of (Cert. 15)
possibly is a breakthrough Polish film on the subject. As
such, it is a clarion call for greater understanding and tolerance
both within that church hierarchy and among a public more noted for
fervour than sexual tolerance.
The much admired actor Andrzej Chyra (the massacre survivor in
Katyn) plays Father Adam, stuck in the middle of nowhere,
running a community centre for disturbed teenage boys. Charismatic,
empathetic, humane, Adam wears brand-name clothes, and swigs beer
while listening to and sort- ing out their troubles. Everybody
wants to be close to him, including some very attractive women. But
beneath this persona that is almost too good to be true lurk secret
Michal (Lukasz Simlat), a teacher and friend who assists him at
the centre, takes it upon himself to report some intimacy that he
sees occurring between the priest and a young mute, Lukasz (Mateusz
Kościukiewicz). The rest of the film deals with officialdom's
responses to the situation, divided opinions among the young people
over it, and, most poignantly, how Adam faces up to his sexuality.
He who has acted as confessor to many others shares these feelings
via Skype with his sister in Toronto, and receives an "absolution"
denied him by the Church. And Lukasz literally has no voice,
offering instead silent worship of Adam.
The title is an intriguing one. It is asking in whose name this
priest is being condemned, before answering "Surely not Christ's."
The director, Małgosśka Szumowska, has publicly stated that his
intention was to show love and the need for love that is perceived
as a sin. "A priest, who is only a human, suddenly becomes a victim
of his own faith and religion only because he wants to love,
moreover because he dares to love another man. I wanted to make a
film in which I wouldn't judge my characters, where I take a look
at them in a purely human way and defend them."
Human it may be, but methinks it is also rather more than that.
The final frame of a post-coital Adam is suffused in the kind of
light reminiscent of Old Masters' paintings of the crucified Jesus
lying full-length in joyful expectation of resurrection. This image
alone feels like a dangling conversation with those who might see
things differently in Poland and beyond.
FILMS about philosophy are scarcer than hen's teeth. When The
Name of the Rose became a film, Umberto Eco's semiotic musings
were jettisoned in favour of a medieval detective story. Ian McEwan
suffered likewise with Enduring Love. His arguments about
the existence of God give way to a battle of wits over a hot-air
balloon. Too many filmmakers follow Sam Goldwyn's dictum: "If you
want to send a message, use Western Union."
It is, therefore, cause for celebration that Hannah
Arendt (Cert. 12A), a film centring on one of the past
century's most famous philosophers, successfully manages to distil
some of her ideas as well as activities. Indeed, we see how her
original thinking - there are spellbinding images as she reclines
on a couch - informs the way she conducts her life.
The film is set mainly in 1961, and it is her perception
of the Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann's trial for crimes against
humanity which causes outrage among fellow Jews and triggers the
emotional impact of the film.
Before it takes in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger
(Arendt's mentor and sometime lover, whom she met when studying
theology), St Augustine, the Holocaust, Zionism, and a meditation
on the nature of evil, there is a somewhat disarming prelude.
Arendt (Barbara Sukowa), in girlish dialogue at her New York
apartment with her friend the novelist Mary McCarthy (Janet
McTeer), is shown as a vibrant, caring human being, not a detached,
We gradually learn of Heidegger's influence on her
thinking. In fact, thinking, as she learns from him, is what makes
us human. Ultimately, Eichmann's crimes, she declares, arise from a
refusal to think for himself. Then he would have had understanding
(a favourite Arendt word) of the immensity of his
Contending with Jewish and Gentile colleagues and
friends, Arendt asserts that "Eichmann is not Mephisto." Instead -
and this is partly what gets her excoriated and shunned - the
accused man in the glass booth represents "the banality of evil".
It is his quotidian, bureaucratic, unquestion-ing acceptance of and
collusion with a regime's monstrous policies that, far from
exonerating him, confirm his culpability.
The director, Margarethe von Trotta, has made several
other films about courageous and strong women, including Hildegard
of Bingen. In Hannah Arendt, she keeps the most potent
demonstration of these qualities till almost the end, when Sukowa
gives a bravura performance as Arendt defending herself in a packed
lecture hall. Implicit but, alas, never stated is Arendt's
startling idea of Natality (The Human Condition, 1958).
With every birth, there is the possibility of beginning something
anew and thereby challenging evils which exist. In refusing life's
invitation to be a person, Eichmann is the automaton, not
The film is ambivalent over her accusation that some
Jewish leaders failed to find middle ground between useless
resistance to Nazi power and absolute co-operation with it.
Paralleling Eichmann's situation, almost the last shot of Arendt
has her isolated behind glass, the implication being that she also
is on trial. In some respects, so is this remarkable
IN LATE 1973, a visit to the cinema included two films plus news
and cartoons. The Wicker Man was the supporting feature
for the Daphne du Maurier adaptation Don't Look Now: a
creepy double bill. Or, strictly speaking, a creepy 1.85-per-cent
bill, as approximately 15 minutes were missing from the director
Robin Hardy's masterful exploration of Christianity and
The distributors' reason for the original cuts was that it was
"hellishly difficult to market". Forty years on, having amassed
huge cult status, academic plaudits, and an American remake,
The Wicker Man: The Final Cut (Cert. 15),
digitally restored, is now being shown in cinemas.
Hardy enthusiastically endorses it, even though some sequences
appear irretrievably lost. To be honest, the restored footage adds
little new detail. What it does achieve, though, is less clunky -
no joins on show - narrative and more fully rounded characters.
The plot, scripted by Anthony Shaffer (Frenzy, Sleuth)
revolves around Sgt Neil Howie's missing-child investigation on a
remote Scottish island. But first we see him reading in church from
1 Corinthians 11 on the origins of the eucharist, including
(significantly) its reference to betrayal. What then happens to
this rather upright policeman partly mirrors St Paul's account,
juxtaposed as it is with free-spirited pagan practices.
He suffers temptations, is mocked, receives evasive if not
deceitful responses to his questions, and endures great suffering.
His final words are those of Walter Raleigh: "Let me not undergo
the real pains of hell, dear God, because I die unshriven."
While it is tempting to read the film as uninhibited
counterculture putting the status quo to death, Hardy and Shaffer
have stated their scepticism about any dogma's placing
people in the "thrall of superstition". Here it is primarily the
pagans, not the lone Christian, guilty of this. Led by Chris-
topher Lee's manipulative Lord of Summer-isle, they do evil in the
name of good.
On the other hand, Howie's faith is in thrall to rational and
repressive forces. His momentary joy in worship, unlike the
islanders', fails to translate into everyday life. The greatness of
this film is its capacity for many other readings - feminist,
psychoanalytical, sociological etc. - which are explored on the DVD
and Blu-ray editions to be released in a few weeks' time.