TWO recently released DVDs from Soda Pictures feature
individuals contending with spiritual monsters. In Metéora
(Cert. 15), Theodoros, a monk (Theo Alexander), and Urania (Tamila
Koulieva), a nun, struggle with sexual attraction. Those in
Peril (Cert. 18) has a modern take on the book of Jonah, a
whale being equated with demonic oceanic activity.
"Metéora" means hovering, a reference to Greek monasteries atop
sandstone columns. Enveloping clouds make them appear from
ground-level to be suspended between earth and heaven. Theodoros
and Urania live on twin peaks. Access for nuns is by hoist. Men
have an arduous climb up rugged steps. Both ways visually represent
St John Climacus's Ladder of Divine Ascent. Community members
regularly visit the plain beneath to participate in the daily round
of tasks inherent to rural communities.
It is here that Theodoros and Urania become drawn to one
another. Back in their cells, they communicate with mirrors
flashing in the sunlight, while striving to continue with their
daily discipline of prayer: she through mortification of the flesh
- burning her hand over a flame - while he spends hours mooning
around the rocks. The story ingeniously segues between filmed
narrative and animated icons, the latter being used to express the
couple's fears, fantasies, and hopes.
In one graphic sequence, Theodoros enters a labyrinth,
unwinding, Ariadne-like, a ball of wool held outside by Urania. The
"monster" to be overcome here is deciding if they're re-crucifying
Jesus by giving way to erotic feelings. "Does God love like we
love?" they ask themselves.
The film is a journey of prayerful trust. It is broken up into
episodes, each prologued by a phrase from Psalm 23. Under a
shepherd's guidance, we watch his herd boundlessly scale the
heights of "heaven". The human quest for freedom involves walking
through the valley of the shadow of death, hoping goodness and
mercy will follow. Can holiness also encompass sexuality? It's a
vertiginous tightrope we all must cross. Barely 80 minutes long,
this DVD felt like watching Test Match cricket. Nothing much
happens for a while, and then suddenly it all does. So you need to
maintain your gaze - rather as praying can be.
The General Synod may recently have sidelined references to the
devil in new baptismal liturgy, but he's still a big fish for
cinema - and not just in potboilers featuring exorcisms, hauntings,
and demon-possession. For Those in Peril, unlike the
biblical story, specifies the sea beast as a whale.
Aaron (George MacKay), an adolescent visionary, endures survivor
guilt, being the only one to have escaped alive from a mysterious
fishing accident off the Scottish coast. We are led to believe this
disaster is the work of Satan. Being vomited from the beast's belly
does Aaron little good, however. The devil continues to torment him
through hostile villagers, who see him somehow responsible for the
deaths of his fellow-fishermen.
We watch the action through a grey-dominated palette, making its
setting a desolate place, i.e. one where the sun never shines.
Aaron considers that the only way to end this misery is to capture
the devil. His mother (Kate Dickie) tries unsuccessfully to temper
his fervour with tales mixing biblical narrative with mythologies.
Aaron's encounters with the local priest (Colin Dempster) and his
congregation bring no solace either.
The film depends more on mood and collage (mobile-phone footage,
photographs, voiceover, home movies) than coherent narrative,
unlike Metéora, which causes it to drag rather than
intrigue. If humanity is perilously all at sea, are Aaron's
attempts to confront evil futile? Or is reliance on the divine the
only way in which monsters can be defeated?
The director of Metéora, Spiros Stathoulopoulos, believes the
latter, while For Those in Peril's Paul Wright vacillates
between contesting and confirming it.