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Films galore — and religion, too

30 September 2016

Stephen Brown takes his pick from the London Film Festival

Praying: a scene in A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson

Praying: a scene in A Quiet Passion, about Emily Dickinson

ONCE again, the London Film Festival — which runs from 5 to 16 October — is screening several religiously themed movies, two of them in the Official Competition.

The director Terence Davies, a self-proclaimed atheist, remains fascinated by belief. A Quiet Passion considers whether the poet Emily Dickinson’s contentions with non-conformism result from personal yearnings and insecurities.

Brimstone is an intriguing Western, in which a preacher (Guy Pearce) terrifies a mute wife with Christianity.

Ministers of religion also figure elsewhere in the festival. The Birth of a Nation follows Nat Turner, an enslaved ordained preacher whose faith impels him to lead an uprising in Virginia. United States of Love explores how a priest provides a haven for our need of love to be channelled.

Orange Sunshine asks whether The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a 1960s church created by Californian surfers, changed the world for the better. The Illinois Parables, on the other hand, questions the extent to which theistic belief has shaped the national identity of the United States.

The Bible drives the narrative of The Secret Scripture, when a Bible belonging to Roseanne (Vanessa Redgrave), an Irish mental-hospital patient for 50 years, becomes crucial to understanding her personality. In The Student, a fundamentalist, Venya, believes that scripture foretells an imminent apocalypse, thus sanctifying his outrageous behaviour.

Italy’s Jehovah’s Witnesses come under scrutiny in Worldly Girl, when a young woman finds her religion’s biblical interpretations at odds with the world that she inhabits. Religious oppression in Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children motivates the search for alternative outlooks.

The Innocents is a French drama in which a doctor becomes the hope for an isolated convent. The Ornithologist chronicles a man’s metaphysical odyssey after being rescued by Chinese women en route to Santiago de Compostela.

Speaking of pilgrimage, though, the festival highlight will for me be Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey. Terrence Malick leads us in his inimitable spiritual style from the origins of the universe towards heaven itself. As such, it is a companion piece to his The Tree of Life (Arts, 8 July 2011).


www.bfi.org.uk/lff, or phone 020 7928 3232

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