Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Media Watch
‘Ida’ is ‘haunting,’ ‘Fault’ is ‘hopeful and life-affirming’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 21, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

A new film of faith, struggle, and the effects of the horrors of the World War and the Communist period is brilliantly portrayed in the new Polish film Ida. A small art film distributor, Music Box Films, has brought Ida to the United States. It is a haunting film that stays with you.

It is 1962 Poland and Anna (Agata Trzbuchowska), who has been raised since a small child in a convent, is now a novice ready to make first vows. Her mother superior asks her to go visit her only known relative, an aunt named Wanda (Agata Kulesza), and stay as long as she needs to before she makes her vows. Anna is very pious and gives the feeling that she is not sure she needs to do this.

But Anna does go to her aunt’s apartment. Wanda had been a judge in the Communist period and she had sentenced some to death. She tells Anna that Anna’s real name is Ida (pronounced Eeda) and that Anna’s mother and father were Jewish and were murdered during the war, possibly by neighbors in their village.

As the story progresses, the aunt takes Ida on a road trip to the parents’ village. It also becomes clear that a child of Wanda’s was murdered. It is Wanda’s hope that they will be able to find the bones of family members and take them to a Jewish cemetery.

In the process of these events it is clear that Wanda leads a life distant from Ida’s. As for Ida, she is placed in a world she is not familiar with and is somewhat overwhelmed.

On the way to the family village, the two women pick up a hitchhiker who is a saxophonist (Dawid Ogrodnik) with a small music group playing in the village. The women later go to a bar to hear the group play music by John Coltrane. The young man is attracted to the nun.

A number of events take place, including Ida returning to the convent and deciding she is not yet ready to take vows. She goes out into the world one more time. The ending is powerful, thought-provoking and something you will want to talk about with someone who has seen the film.

To do a religious film about vocation and the evils of the 20th century is a major undertaking. Director Pawel Pawlikowski, who has lived his life in Britain, went to Poland to film Ida. He has done a superb job. The film is shot in black and white on a screen size closer to movies of the ’40s. The starkness of Communist Poland is present throughout. The actors are terrific, especially the two women with the same first name of Agata.

A number of critics have called this film a masterpiece. For me, that word of extreme praise is worthy of this wonderful film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates Ida PG-13 because of thematic elements, some sexuality, and lots of smoking. Catholic News Service has rated the film A-III – for adults.

*****

The opening weekend of the film The Fault in Our Stars back in June brought in $48 million for a movie that only cost $12 million to make. The audience was heavily young women who were familiar with John Green’s novel of the same name that has sold over 10 million copies.

When I saw the film at an early showing on opening day, the audience of roughly 50 teens broke into applause at the end.

Shailene Woodley as Hazel Grace Lancaster gives a powerful performance as a 16-year-old suffering from thyroid cancer that has moved to her lungs. She is on constant oxygen that she carries with her. Her mother (Laura Dern) pushes Hazel to attend a cancer support group at a nearby Episcopalian Church. She is not happy about going but goes twice and develops a friendship with 18-year-old Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort). They exchange books they have enjoyed. Hazel gives Augustus An Imperial Affliction by a Dutch-American author Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe). It is a story about living with cancer.

Hazel has tried to communicate with Houten to ask several questions about what happens to the characters after a rather opaque ending. She has gotten no response. Augustus, called Gus by his parents and eventually by Hazel, e-mails a letter to the author’s assistant. He does make contact and gets a reply from the author. Houten asks them to come to Amsterdam to speak to him personally. Hazel is told by her doctors that she cannot go but eventually her own doctor says she should live and go. Gus has obtained the money through a Make-A-Wish foundation.

The meeting in Amsterdam with the author goes badly. We learn that his drinking and anger results from his own child dying of cancer. But Amsterdam has never appeared more beautiful in a film and the assistant takes them to the Anne Frank House.

The film moves to an ending as Hazel and Gus have fallen in love and it is revealed that Gus’s cancer that originally caused part of his leg to be removed has spread throughout his body. There are a number of surprises that follow.

Yes, the movie is emotional with the whole issue of young people facing life and death in the context of cancer. On the whole, the film is hopeful and life-affirming. The faith side does not play a major part, but there is a sense of hope even in the darkness.

Hazel walking up the stairs to the top of the Anne Frank House pulls out all the stops for Hazel’s determination to do it, even though it is heartbreakingly difficult for her to do.

The title of the film comes from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar; Caesar says, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Although the film, as the book, is designed for teenage young women, the film is also excellent for anyone with cancer or family members and friends of those with cancer or in remission.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13 because of some sexuality and strong language. The Catholic Film Board rates the film A-III – for adults.

Book Review

A volunteer colleague at Our Place, the food and clothing bank near the courthouse in Spokane, recently told me that she heard the Boise author Anthony Doerr read at Spokane’s recent “Get Lit” event. Doerr has a page-turning lyrical new book titled All The Light We Cannot See. It is published in hardcover by Scribner of New York for a list price of $27.

On the Washington State Government channel, Doerr revealed that he got the title before he had any idea of the story. He was on an Amtrak train going under the Hudson River into Pennsylvania Station when a man in front of him got very upset because he could no longer use his computer. To Doerr, the title came from all the bits of light that make so many of modern life’s global connections. In the novel that he spent 10 years working on, the title All The Light We Cannot See can have several meanings.

The book of a little over 500 pages has 187 short chapters of one-to-four pages each. And to top it off, each chapter has a title.

The novel goes back and forth between 1944 and 1934 while it tells the story of two children, one in France the other in Germany, as they grow into young adulthood in a turbulent time. Also there is a strong subplot about a German military man searching for a 133 carat diamond named the Sea of Flames.

With all of the above, the book tells the horrors of World War II within the context of the main characters in small and large ways with the moral choices they face. Marie-Laure LeBlanc lives in Paris in the ’30s with her father, Daniel, who is in charge of locks at the Museum of Natural History. At six, Marie-Laure suffers blindness. Her father teaches her how to walk the city streets on her own, and builds a model of the city streets and buildings so that Marie-Laure can get a feel of the buildings she is to walk by.

Meanwhile, in a mining town of Germany, Werner Pfenning grows up with his sister Jutta in an orphanage. Early on, Werner builds a primitive radio on which they listen to a Frenchmen speak of the poetry of nature and science while playing classical music.

Because of his skills with radio, instead of being sent to the mines at 15, he is sent to a Nazi school where he is forced to make difficult ethical decisions as the violent training in a sense mirrors the eventual war and its horrors.

In 1940 Marie-Laure and her Dad leave Paris for the coastal down of Saint Malo, where they will live with her great-uncle Etienne, who is isolated in his room. This is the house that had the radio transmitter that the German children heard when Marie-Laure’s grandfather was alive.

Toward the end of the story, after Marie-Laure’s Dad has been captured and taken to a Nazi prison camp, she is alone with her great-uncle in their house. Werner, now in the German Army, is sent to find radio transmitters used by the underground in Saint Malo.

The book even brings all these events together, with some of the characters even up to 2014.

Anthony Doerr has done a masterful job of storytelling, enhanced by his beautiful style of writing. All The Light We Cannot See is epic in its scope while being so personal to its characters in the telling. A writer from our part of the country has gifted the wider world with a dazzling piece of writing.

Recently Received

I recently stayed overnight in Pasco to visit Msgr. Pedro Ramírez. At a Knights of Columbus dinner, Sister Mary Williams of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet said she would send me her new book on the the community, titled All Things New: The Story of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the Los Angeles Province. The book would be of particular interest to anyone familiar with the Sisters in Pasco or the Clarkston-Lewiston area. It is available by calling Sister Irma Amelia Tye, CSJ at 310-889-2138 for $20, plus shipping and handling.

Chapter 5, titled “Pioneers in the Northwest,” tells of the Sisters at St Joseph Hospital in Lewiston and their involvement at St. Stanislaus Parish. In Pasco, the Sisters started out at the Montana Hotel and made it into Pasco’s first hospital that was named “Our Lady of Lourdes.” The first year in 1916 there were 60 patients. Construction of a new hospital began in 1920.

The beginning of the story is fascinating as the Sisters come to Tucson and California.

Some in the Spokane area may know Sister Mary Williams. She was a graduate of Marycliff High School in 1948.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)


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