Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Calvary Review

"I first tasted semen when I was 7 years old."

Right off the bat, the very first piece of dialogue and I was taken aback by the film Calvary. I entered the cinema excited at how little I knew about what I was about to see, such a rare treat to be almost entirely in the dark when it comes to plot, tone, hell even the cast was a mystery to me. The only information I had prior the the dimming of the lights around me was the largely positive critical reception of the film and a simple label that had been applied to it in advance by someone I know: dark comedy.

While the film has plenty of comedic bits and silly moments, I personally would not consider it a dark comedy. Due to this label, I entered the theater expecting to laugh and I did, but those laughs were wrapped tightly inside a moving, meaningful narrative exploring the current rocky relationship society has with faith and the Catholic Church.

That quote at the top is heard inside a confessional, an unseen man uttering the words not to incite laughter but rather as a demonstration of the suffering he has faced throughout his life as he has dealt with being repeatedly raped by a priest as a child. We hear his anger and the emotional toll such a thing has taken on his mind as he announces to the priest hearing his confession that he will kill him in exactly seven days, not because he is the man guilty of such awful sins but actually quite the opposite. His irrational logic is that there is no point in killing a bad priest. To really make a statement, a good priest has to die.

The film serves as an effective and compelling whodunit mystery, as the priest explores the town he calls home and converses with different members of the community, and it is clear that one of these men was inside that confessional making that vengeful promise to commit murder in one weeks time, but really it isn't about that. We, the audience, are not made aware of who the man is, but the priest makes it clear very early on that he knows exactly who it is and thus for him the last week of his life serves as a search for peace and understanding in case the threat is carried forth.

He could easily run as no one is stopping him, find a new place to safely call home, but perhaps he feels as a representative of the church he owes it to the man to meet him face to face, as the very thing he devoted his entire life to has unfortunately caused so much pain with their inexplicable sexually deviant actions behind closed doors. The priest, Father James, is played so beautifully and effortlessly by Brendan Gleeson, surely one of the finer performances I have witnessed from 2014 even though very little of it is over-the-top or begging for attention. He doesn't need to beg, he commands it with his presence and while he often times maintains the stoic and calming demeanor expected of a man in his position, the level of nuance and the subtle ways he demonstrates his struggles and fears as he lives out the final days of his life are what makes Gleeson so remarkable here.

Calvary is also a brilliantly photographed picture as well, stunning to look at with the rolling green landscapes of Ireland serving as a backdrop. Cinematographer Larry Smith delivers a very different texture than his previous beautiful to look at film Only God Forgives, proving that his eye does not require a neon, surreal palette to wow an audience as he elevates dull tones and a gloomy atmosphere to something that feels as if it glows throughout every frame. At times even just a white room with a cross on the wall feels like a wondrous aesthetic, inspired in its simplicity.

One of my favorite sequences in the picture is when Father James comes across a little girl walking down the road and he initiates conversation with her, a completely innocent example of small talk that is pleasant and safe, as any dialogue between a man of the cloth and a young child should be. The girls father pulls up in his car and is furious as he could not locate the young girl, and rather than be thankful that she was in the presence of a trustworthy pillar of the community that a priest should be, he obviously and immediately suspects foul play without actually saying. The cold glare of this man towards Father James is haunting and a hard pill to swallow because we know he is good, that his intentions are safe and pure, and yet it is also hard to blame the pessimism of a father. The actions by some in the Catholic Church, men whom were trusted by children, by parents, by friends and family, have caused not only the victims but the innocent members of the clergy to suffer.

Calvary stunned me with its powerful narrative and the final act of the film is quite the memorable and perfectly crafted achievement. I had no idea what to expect as I took my seat the other night, but it certainly wasn't the film I ended up witnessing.


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