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‘Mary of Nazareth’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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The story of the Gospels unfolds through the eyes of the mother of God in “Mary of Nazareth” (Ignatius Press Films), a beautiful, often moving depiction of the life of Mary from her childhood through the passion and resurrection of her son.

Italian director Giacomo Campiotti (2002’s “Doctor Zhivago”) has produced a handsome and respectful film, with a gifted international cast and some luminous cinematography shot in Tunisia. The script, by Francesco Arlanch, more or less follows the biblical account, with a few intriguing departures, inspired by apocryphal writings, that heighten the drama.

For example, we are told that King Herod (Andrea Giordana) heard a prophesy of a girl who would one day bring forth a savior, prompting him to terrorize Judea, in a precursor to the slaughter of the innocents. Mary’s parents, Ann (Antonella Attili) and Joachim (Roberto Citran), hide their young daughter, keeping her safe.

Mary (Alissa Jung) is a joyful but special child, one whom dogs and snakes fear. Her parents are happy but often perplexed.

After Mary's betrothal to Joseph (Luca Marinelli), and the Annunciation, a resigned Joachim tells Mary, “Forgive me. I always knew you were a mystery, but I never knew how great a mystery.”

The Nativity (unfortunately, Joseph misses the birth, as he leaves the cave to fetch water) is beautifully rendered. Mary possesses a strong, almost psychic bond with her young son, aware when he is hurt or in danger, and experiencing visions of his future Passion in her mind.

Once Jesus (Andreas Pietschmann) begins his public ministry (“He couldn’t stay and be a carpenter forever,” Joseph says), Mary is always present, strong and compassionate, helping when she can. But when she asks him for assistance with the wine at Cana, she later worries she was impulsive, forcing Jesus to act before he was ready.

Mary not only shares her son’s ministry, but also his pain. Every blow during the scourging is felt by Mary, as is the slow agony of Crucifixion. She literally crawls up the hill of Calvary on her hands and knees to be near her dying son.

The depictions of the slaughter of the innocents and the Passion are graphic, even harrowing, which preteens might find upsetting.

But for the rest of the family, “Mary of Nazareth” makes for an enriching catechetical experience that's also both inspiring and entertaining. The film is fittingly dedicated “to all mothers, whose life-giving, sacrificial love, like Mary, changes the world.”

“Mary of Nazareth” is available for sponsored screenings in theaters, and is expected to be released on DVD later this year. For more information, visit maryfilm.com. The film contains several scenes of bloody violence and death. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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A hero’s story

Those who subscribe to the “great man” theory of history – the idea that the optimum way to understand the past is to study the lives of key individuals – won’t find a better example than South African dissident-turned-president Nelson Mandela.

That's one conclusion to be drawn from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Weinstein) – a hagiographic film glowing with admiration for its protagonist and bent on demonstrating the historical significance of his personal journey. Adapted from Mandela’s 1994 autobiography, the handsome movie may not sufficiently acknowledge how other persons and forces contributed to the dismantling of apartheid. But Mandela’s espousal of forgiveness and peace certainly comes across as crucial in determining the course of his native country’s history.

Still, the cinematic limitations of “Mandela” illustrate the pitfalls of approaching history through a too-narrow prism. In sum, the glossy presentation has a static quality, as if the filmmakers are trying to preserve Mandela’s legacy in amber. To be a truly outstanding biopic, it would have to plumb the depths of Mandela’s character with more incisiveness and make his internal struggle more dynamic. It’s never clear what underpins his wisdom and moral courage.

Director Justin Chadwick leans too heavily on flashbacks to Mandela’s coming-of-age ceremony and dream images of the golden fields surrounding his childhood village. Yet their explanatory power is minimal. The narrative spans the majority of Mandela’s adult life – from 1942, when he was a lawyer in Johannesburg, to his election as president in 1994. After joining the African National Congress, Mandela quickly became a leader in the struggle against the minority Afrikaner government. He helped organize a sabotage campaign and was arrested and sentenced to life along with seven colleagues in 1964.

Of Mandela’s 25 years in prison, 18 were spent on Robben Island. After transferring him to a less forbidding mainland facility, the government began negotiating with Mandela – sans his cohorts – about his release and what would follow when white rule ended.

Despite the emphasis on a single agent of change, it’s not Mandela's story alone. The experience of his second wife, Winnie (Naomie Harris), serves as schematic counterpoint. During his long absence, she is harassed, arrested and mistreated by police. Fueled by hatred, she publicly embraces violence and advocates revenge.

British actor Idris Elba brings a robust physicality to the title role. And although his accent tends to fluctuate, William Nicholson’s cautious screenplay and the film’s lionizing tack are mostly responsible for any lack of texture in the portrayal. Mandela’s greatest flaw appears to be his inveterate womanizing and adulterous behavior. By romanticizing his dalliances, the picture makes this aspect of his personality all the more difficult to excuse – more difficult, even, than his decision to abandon nonviolence prior to his incarceration.

The fact that Mandela became the face of his movement challenged a guiding principle of the ANC, namely, that no single person can oppose apartheid as effectively as multiple individuals banded together. Inadvertently, the film’s polished aesthetics also call into question the efficacy of one person acting alone, no matter how great he or she may be.

Early on, tasteful period details seem to belie the harsh conditions for nonwhites. And later, one wonders what effect the special treatment and relatively cushy conditions the government affords Mandela have on his decisions. Ultimately, however, it’s clear that he is not being driven by vanity, self-aggrandizement, self-pity or the desire for material comfort. Instead, the movie makes a powerful case for concluding that Nelson Mandela’s greatest virtue as a statesman was his ability to look beyond his own personal circumstances and discern what was best for his nation as a whole.

The film contains considerable violence – including many gun battles, bombings and an immolation – demeaning treatment of prisoners, a half-dozen premarital and adulterous sexual situations, though without nudity or explicit activity, as well as some crude language and hate speech. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 –parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John P. McCarthy, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (December)


A
Admission, L (PG-13)
After Earth, A-III (PG-13)
Amour, L (PG-13)
Anna Karenina, A-III (R)

B
Beautiful Creatures, L (PG-13)
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, A-III (PG-13)
The Big Wedding, O (R)
The Bling Ring, O (R)
Broken City, L (R)
Bullet to the Head, O (R)

C
The Call, O (R)
Christmas for a Dollar, A-I (PG)
The Collection, O (R)
The Conjuring, A-III (R)
Conviction, L (R)
Creature, O (R)
The Croods, A-I (PG)
Crooked Arrows, A-III (PG-13)

D
Dark Skies, A-III (PG-13)
Dead Man Down, O (R)
The Dictator, O (R)
Django Unchained, L (R)

E
End of Watch, O (R)
Epic, A-I (PG)
Escape From Planet Earth, A-I (PG)
Evil Dead, O (R)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, A-III (PG-13)

F
The Five-Year Engagement, O (R)
Flipped, A-III (PG)
42, A-III (PG-13)

G
Gangster Squad, L (R)
Getaway, A-III (PG-13)
G.I. Joe: Retaliation, A-III (PG-13)
A Good Day to Die Hard, L (R)
The Grace Card, A-II (PG-13)
Grown Ups 2, A-III (PG-13)
The Guilt Trip, A-III (PG-13)

H
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, O (R)
A Haunted House, O (R)
Haywire, L (R)
The Heat, O (R)
Hellbound?, A-III (no rating)
Hereafter, A-III (PG-13)
Hitchcock, A-III (PG-13)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, A-II (PG-13)
The Host, A-III (PG-13)
Hyde Park on Hudson, O (R)

I
Identity Thief, L (R)
The Internship, L (PG-13)
Iron Man 3, A-III (PG-13)

J
Jack Reacher, L (PG-13)
Jane Eyre, A-III (PG-13)
Jobs, A-III (PG-13)
Jurassic Park, A-II (PG-13)
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, A-I (G)

L
Last Ounce of Courage, A-II (PG)
The Last Stand, L (R)
Les Miserables, A-III (PG-13)
The Lucky One, A-III (PG-13)

M
Mama, A-III (PG-13)
Man of Steel, A-III (PG-13)
The Master, O (R)
The Mill & the Cross, A-III (no rating)
Monsters University, A-I (G)
Moonrise Kingdom, A-III (PG-13)
Movie 43, O (R)
Mud, A-III (PG-13)

N
Nitro Circus: The Movie 3D, A-III (PG-13)
Now You See Me, A-III (PG-13)

O
Oblivion, A-III (PG-13)
Of Gods and Men, A-III (PG-13)
Olympus Has Fallen, L (R)
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure, A-I (G)
Oz the Great and Powerful, A-II (PG)

P
Pacific Rim, A-III (PG-13)
Pain and Gain, O (R)
Paranoia, A-III (PG-13)
Parental Guidance, A-I (PG)
Parker, O (R)
Peeples, O (PG-13)
People Like Us, A-III (PG-13)
The Perfect Family, O (PG-13)
Pitch Perfect, A-III (PG-13)
Planes, A-I (G)
Playing for Keeps, A-III (PG-13)
Promised Land, A-III (R)
The Purge, O (R)

R
RED 2, A-III (PG-13)
R.I.P.D., A-III (PG-13)

S
Safe Haven, L (PG-13)
Scary Movie 5, O (PG-13)
The Sessions, O (R)
Seven Psychopaths, O (R)
Side Effects, L (R)
Sinister, L (R)
Snitch, A-III (PG-13)
Somewhere Between, A-II (no rating)
Star Trek Into Darkness, A-III (PG-13)
Stella Days, L (no rating)

T
Texas Chainsaw 3D, O (R)
This Is the End, O (R)
To the Wonder, A-III (PG-13)
The Tree of Life, A-II (PG-13)
Turbo, A-I (PG)
21 and Over, O (R)
2 Guns, L (R)
Tyler Perry's Good Deeds, A-III (PG-13)
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, A-III (PG-13)

W
Warm Bodies, A-III (PG-13)
We're the Millers, O (R)
The Way, Way Back, A-III (PG-13)
White House Down, A-III (PG-13)
World War Z, A-III (PG-13)
The World's End, A-III (R)

Z
Zero Dark Thirty, L (R)