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Control and combat

22 May 2015

Stephen Brown sees two new films on release in cinemas

THE PRIEST'S CHILDREN (Cert. 15) is billed as a comedy. Given that it has a happy ending of sorts, then I suppose it is. Laughs out loud, though, are scarce. In reality, the film strives to deal with some rather serious matters concerning sexual morality and the Church.

It takes quite a talent to prevent such a topic getting a little too solemn at times. This Croatian film is directed by Vinko Brešan. It doesn't come as a complete surprise that his university studies included philosophy; for between the pratfalls there's much to think about.

Coming to this island parish, the hapless new curate Don Fabijan (Krešimir Mikić) lives far too much under the shadow of beloved Father Jakov (Zdenko Botic). Tone-deaf Fabijan can't compete with his mentor's musical talents or his sporting prowess. Even on the spiritual side of things, a huge queue forms in front of Jakov's confessional box while Fabijan has to make do with Petar (Niksa Butijer), someone in a hurry to get back to his newspaper kiosk.

Under pressure from his wife, he is confessing to selling contraceptives. This triggers a turning point in Fabijan's career as he hits on a cunning plan. He will no longer try to emulate the senior priest, but be his own man. Not only that, but by puncturing all of Petar's condoms he exalts his penitent into a state of grace. They also manage to persuade the pharmacist to substitute the Pill with vitamin tablets.

Petar is an encyclopedia of knowledge about the sexual habits of his customers. Intercourse is at its highest, he says, during holidays and before marriage. Naming names, however, proves too much information for the curate to deal with. What are his moral responsibilities, knowing what he knows about his parishioners? He can rejoice at an increased birth rate on this depopulating island, but several of the pregnancies provoke the Law of Unintended Consequences, not to mention a few very red faces.

A baby is abandoned at the clergy house. Women are left destitute by unscrupulous men whom they had consorted with in the belief that adequate contraception was involved. Infertile couples flock to the parish, hoping for remedies. Tragedies occur including revelations of child sexual abuse by clergy. News of this reaches the Bishop, who arrives in a gigantic yacht. "Tycoon or mafioso?" one passer-by asks Fabijan. Completely assuming that Fabijan is sexually active (and unfazed about it), the prelate's only concern is that it is not with minors.

Krešimir Mikić convincingly manages Fabijan's transition from naïve curate to sadder but wiser man. In the end, we are left with the impression that the Roman Catholic Church - clergy and laity - has quite some way to go in sorting out its attitudes to sex. But Brešan's film has relevance for all institutions that lay down rules on this crucial area of human behaviour. Fortunately for all of us, divine forgiveness lies at the heart of this film.

NOW, here's a genre-bending movie for you. Tokyo Tribe (Cert. 18) is an all-singing, all-dancing Yakuza street-gangs action film derived from its manga comic-book origins.

West Side Story, Japanese-style, it certainly isn't. More A Clockwork Orange, complete with snatches of Beethoven, as the tribes ferociously battle-rap their way across a futuristic Tokyo made up of ghettoes and nightclubs.

While the film is likely to be shunned by the squeamish, it does have some redeeming features. Notably there is Erika (Nana Seino), the daughter of a priest who remains a shadowy figure throughout the movie. We know enough about him and his dubious sacrificial practices to realise that he's up to no good. This is probably the chief reason that his followers include the vicious gang-leader Lord Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) and his henchman Mera, played by the physically imposing Ryôhei Suzuki. The way religion endorses (or at least lends itself to) violent behaviour is a prevailing motif of the film.

Erika, in pursuit of a better way of living, goes on the run (under the name of Sunmi) from her blood-thirsty father. She falls into the hands of Buppa's thugs, who delight in sex and violence as well as rap music. Fortunately, in true comic-book style, there is a hero, Kai. And he sings even better songs. That's because the actor Young Dais is in real life one of Japan's most popular singers. Kai also heads the Musashino-Saru tribe, one dedicated to peace and love.

Herein lies the judgement: light has come into the world, but men prefer darkness. Erika/Sunmi acts in effect as 1 Corinthian 13's Hymn to Love. Her muscular spirituality in tandem with the combat skills of Kai provide the necessary confrontation with evil which the narrative demands.

The director Sion Sono has, over many years, compiled a distinctive frenetic and rebellious output. Here, with obligatory fast cutting and hand-held camera shots, it looks a tired old medium. The music is about the only factor different from many other run of the mill gangsta-type pictures. And, though an element of "Forgive us our trespasses" supersedes the carnage of turf wars, it remains a film strictly for cult followers of ultra-violent scenarios.

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