From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: 2000’s 10 best films; priest is a central character in ‘difficult’ novel

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 18, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

At the end of the year it is traditional to do a Ten Best Movies of the Year list. I am including only movies I actually saw during the year, which obviously eliminates many of the end of the year movies that come out around Christmas. I list the movies in alphabetical order.

Billy Elliot is a Rocky-like film of an 11-year-old lad from Durham County, England, who follows his passion to dance all the way to the Royal Ballet School in London. Jamie Bell, who actually is 14, plays Billy with a zest for life as he faces the ups and downs of living through northern England’s mining strike of the mid-1980s.

The Decalogue by the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski opened in New York City last summer at the same time as it was available on video. The 10 hour-long films were originally done for Polish television in the mid 1980s. Each hour is a reflection on one of the Ten Commandments, through the lives of contemporary citizens of Poland. Kieslowski, who is now deceased, brings new meaning to each of the Ten Commandments. Excellent for discussion in small home or church groups. Some of the hour programs are unforgettable. If not available at your local video store, call Facets Video at 1-800-331-6197.

Erin Brockovich has now become synonymous with the star Julia Roberts. It is the story of a single mom with three children who takes on the corruption of an electrical power company. Julia Roberts should easily get an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich.

Gladiator is an old-fashioned Hollywood extravaganza about the Roman Empire when emperors ruled the known world. Lots of violence. Russell Crowe in the title role proves he is a top-ranked movie star.

Keeping the Faith is a light romantic comedy about a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest who meet their childhood sweetheart as young adults. Edward Norton plays the priest convincingly. Ben Stiller is great as the rabbi. Jenna Elfman is radiant as their longtime friend.

Liberty Heights is the most recent Barry Levinson film about his boyhood home of Baltimore. It played one week in February in our area. It is well worth seeing on video. It is the story of a Jewish family with two sons growing up in the 1950s. Liberty Heights tells the story of how Blacks and Jews nervously began to interact in a world where they had been separated.

Nurse Betty is a comedy with a very dark side that looks at the television world that so heavily influences our lives. Betty (Renee Zellweger) escapes her real world into the world of the television soap opera. The actors in this film are so good, down to the lowliest small part, that they are able to pull off a very over-the-top plot.

The Straight Story is the account of a 79-year-old codger named Alvin, played by the late Richard Farnsworth who had cancer at the time. Alvin wishes to reconcile with a brother named Lyle who has just had a stroke. Alvin is unable to drive his car anymore, so he steers his riding lawn mower across the state of Iowa to visit his brother in Wisconsin. David Lynch has made a movie that is against his style. It is a beautiful film of journey, love and forgiveness. Not to be missed by all age groups.

Unbreakable is a psychological thriller that again shows how fine an actor Bruce Willis is. Samuel L. Jackson plays a sickly comic book collector with mystery.

Wonder Boys is a shaggy-dog story that has Michael Douglas playing a laid back college professor whose world crashes down around him. Robert Downey Jr., Tobey Maguire, and Frances McDormand stand out in supporting roles.


Book Review: Chocolat, by Joanne Harris. Penguin Books, 2000, $12.95.

A friend was talking about dark portrayals of Catholic priests in literature. She said that one of the most recent negative presentations of a priest was the new novel Chocolat by the French-English author Joanne Harris. Another friend said she read it flying from London to Spokane after visiting family. She and her daughter, who read it later at the lake, liked it very much.

I’ve always liked the priest characters of the French novels Woman of the Pharisees and Diary of a Country Priest. But the portrayal of Pere Reynaud as the parish priest in a small village in France in Chocolat was for me very painful to read. If you want to meet a controlling, manipulative priest who has every bad characteristic a Catholic priest could possibly have, you will be intrigued by Pere Reynaud.

The new movie version of Chocolat is being hailed as “the best comedy of the year. The film relegates Pere Reynaud to a minor role. And if it is a comedy I can see why. The book has lots of humor, irony, and makes devilish fun of a Jansenistic priest. But the book has one of the darkest characters of modern literature as one of its two main characters.

Chocolat is described as a fairy tale about a mysterious woman, Vianne Rocher, who with her daughter arrives in a small French village on Shrove Tuesday. She enters into the Mardi Gras. Within a few short days she has refurbished a small bakery into a beautiful chocolate shop. Soon all kinds of interesting local characters make the shop a part of their daily lives.

Vianne acts priest-like, as a minister who wisely counsels and heals as villagers enjoy food and drink at her establishment. She has a gift of bringing villagers together with gypsies who live on boats in a nearby river. With gourmet chocolate she unleashes a sense of the sensual that enables some to find new love.

Every few chapters after reading what Vianne sees happening in the village there is a chapter that is written by Pere Reynaud as he speaks to a silent former pastor suffering from a stroke and living in a nursing home. Reynaud is deeply threatened by Vianne and the chocolate shop. In his sermons he speaks out against the shop and the views of Vianne. He generally comes across as a person you would never like to have contact with.

But by the end of the book my heart went out to him because we learn the childhood cause of his strictness and racial cruelty. At the same time we learn that Vianne’s psyche is wounded very seriously also. In the end Vianne triumphs, but still something gnaws at her as she looks to be moving on.

A fable is probably not supposed to be heavily interpreted. But the author seems to be saying we need to be freed from the unreasonable strictures of organized religion, especially Christianity. We need to let the emotions and senses be unshackled.

This was a difficult book for me to read. But I am glad I read it. It gives a clear-cut vision of how many see the Catholic Church. In fact it is a book priests and bishops should read.

(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Ecumenical Relations Officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)

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