Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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
‘Fear Index’ examines ethical questions; Iranian ‘A Separation,’ one of 2011’s best, features ‘superb acting’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the April 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

At the Academy Awards in February the Iranian film A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign film. And indeed it is a wonderful film that cuts to the core of the human condition with all its goodness and woundedness.

The film is written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. As there is growing war-like talk in the news in reference to nuclear capabilities in Iran, A Separation gives an intimate and heart-felt view into the daily life of a upper-middle class family in Tehran.

Husband, Nadar (Peyman Maadi) and wife, Simin (Leila Hatami) open the film with a heated discussion before a family court judge. Simin wants the family to leave Iran and go to another country where their 11-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), will have a better chance at a good life. Nadar does not want to leave Tehran because his father has Alzheimer’s Disease and he wishes to take care of him at home. So Simin asks for a divorce and the judge does not grant it. He tells the couple to go home and work it out. As a result, Simin leaves the family (Termeh will not leave alone with her mother) and goes to stay with her parents.

The crisis for Nadar is that he must hire a caregiver immediately so he can do his daily job at the bank. He hires a lower-class, deeply religious woman named Razieh (Sareh Bayat). Then the film becomes a form of a mystery thriller where the issue of truthfulness in the key characters comes to the fore.

Razieh immediately has difficulties when Nadar’s father becomes incontinent. She calls on the phone for religious advice before she feels it is okay to give him some form of bath and change his clothes. There are many complications that develop as very good people deal with personal crises and their own visions of what is taking place. Alfred Hitchcock would be very pleased with this film.

The acting is superb. Sarina Farhadi is a standout as the daughter caught in the middle of a divorce.

It truly is one of the best films of 2011. It is in Persian with English subtitles.

A Separation is rated PG-13 for thematic issues. Catholic News Service has not rated the film. I personally would think it would be a fine film for older teens especially to talk over with parents and peers.

Book Review

Back in 1987 the great Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski gave the world his 10-part television series on the Ten Commandments, titled The Decalogue. In the first commandment on “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” Kieslowski raises the question of the possibility of the computer becoming a mind of its own.

The British mystery writer Robert Harris carries that theme to new heights in his intense new novel The Fear Index. He has combined the no-hold-bared intensity of the modern hedge fund with a specialized computer that reacts with incredible speed to events in the world. The result is not long-term investment but the trading of stocks worth billions in less than a second that gives this Geneva-based hedge fund a tremendous advantage that reaps millions if not billions for the rich investors of the fund.

Dr. Alex Hoffmann and his wife, Gabrielle, have just moved into multi-million dollar belle epoque mansion built in 1902 in Geneva. An intruder is moving about in their new home downstairs even though the building has all the latest alarm detectors known to man. Alex goes downstairs. Looking through the window downstairs Alex sees the intruder sharpening knives in the kitchen. Suddenly the intruder seems to bolt but Alex soon believes the man is still hiding in his home. The next time he awakes, Alex is on the floor in the hall of the home as Geneva Police officials arrive.

From that time we move at a very fast pace as we learn that Hoffmann is in the middle of a very ingenious mystery involving high-powered computers, intense greed of investors, a collapsing relationship with his artist wife, and mystery figures that seem to be following the scientist. And of course there is the overriding reality of the question that fear plays in our lives, both individually and as a community.

At the beginning of each chapter there is a quotation from persons like Darwin. The one by Bill Gates is from 1999: “As I was considering these issues ... a new concept popped into my head: ‘The digital nervous system’ ... A digital nervous system consists of the digital processes that enable a company to perceive and react to its environment, to sense competitor challenges and customer needs and to organize timely responses ...”

The quotation from Andrew S. Grove, President and CEO of Intel Corporation, is short and to the point: “Only the paranoid survive.”

Robert Harris has given us a rip-roaring thriller that is hard to put down. In the process of reading it, you do learn in an interesting manner a great deal about the science of computers and the world of high finance.

The Fear Index is a book that raises important ethical questions about the digital world we live in.

The Fear Index is published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf of New York for a list price of $25.95.

DVD Review

The great director Roland Joffe, who gave us the classic films The Killing Fields and The Mission, recently wrote and directed the film There Be Dragons. Now out on DVD, it tells the story of St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, in epic style, from the beginning of the 20th century though the late 1930s in the midst of the Spanish Civil War.

It is sad to report that There Be Dragons is a noble failure. The main part of the story centers not so much on Escriva (played by Charlie Cox) but his boyhood friend Mariolo (Wes Bentley), who plays a Nationalist spy amid the Loyalists in the violence and turmoil of the Spanish Civil War.

Trying to tell the story of the Spanish Civil War is extremely complicated in any circumstances, but director Joffe lets it get way out of hand. The main problem is the script, which is way too complicated. Secondly, the editing is confusing. It’s like there was all this war footage and no one wanted to edit it at all. To top it off, I blinked and missed completely that the Mariolo was the father of a child with a Loyalist woman who despised him. That child eventually plays a key part in the story.

Josemaria Escriva is presented as a very good priest who seeks to involve the laity in new ways. Some of his comments almost sound like they are from Vatican II documents many years later. The title Opus Dei comes from Escriva’s mother, in reference to the Work of God in which the laity are challenged to be key leaders. Someone at the time thought that the Latin form gave the title more prestige.

The complicated story begins with Robert Torres (Dougray Scott) in our time researching a biography of Escriva and discovers that his father, Mariolo, now up in years, was a good friend of Escriva.

The film which takes place in Spain was actually filmed in Argentina. The title comes from the Latin “Hic sunt dracones,” which referred to the dragons placed on ancient maps where there were uncharted seas.

If you have an interest in Joesemaria Escriva you may still want to see this film. It portrays him in a fairly heroic light, but the movie is really more about his friend, Mariolo. It is a film that tried to reach for the stars and lost its way.

There Be Dragons is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. The film has some violence and combat sequences. There are some language and thematic elements that may cause concern. The Catholic News Service rating is A-III – adults.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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