Parvez Sharma's A Jihad for Love
The first film on the Film Snobbery list not featuring Judeo-Christian issues is, at #14, Satyajit Ray's Devi (1960), which deals with “the tragic implications of religious obsession in this dark drama of a man who believes his young daughter is an incarnation of a Hindu goddess.” Among the few “other religion” films on the list are Parvez Sharma's A Jihad for Love (2007), about the obstacles gays face in Islamic countries; Kon Ichikawa's anti-war drama The Burmese Harp (1955), in which a World War II Japanese soldier adopts the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk (we should have more such soldiers in real life); and Conrad Rooks' Siddartha (1972), based on Hermann Hesse's goosebump-inducing novel about the early life of Buddha.
Now, my favorite “religion movie” of all time? Probably Maurice Cloche's Monsieur Vincent, which is not on the Film Snobbery list. (You guys!) In this 1947 French drama, Pierre Fresnay creates a beautiful portrayal of St. Vincent De Paul, a man whose holiness has nothing to do with talking bushes or the ability to water-ski without ski pads. Instead, Fresnay's Vincent is a “saint” merely because of his inner goodness, which thrives despite all the human evil surrounding him. Monsieur Vincent deservedly won a special Oscar as the best foreign language film shown in the United States in 1948.
Here are three others: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1946), about hot & bothered nuns (Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, right, with David Farrar) in the Himalayas; Carl Dreyer's Day of Wrath (1943), about religious intolerance and witch-burning in a 17th-century Danish village; and Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest (1951), in which a young parish priest (Claude Laydu) and we, the audience, discover that, despite the evil and ugliness in the world, “All Is Grace” – as long as you're a person of rock-solid faith or as long as you're an unquestioning, brainwashed fanatic. Bresson leaves that up to us. Only Black Narcissus, at #15, is on the Film Snobbery list.
“Few topics manage to provoke audiences the way that religion can,” says Phil Hall, film scholar and author of the highly informative The History of Independent Cinema (BearManor Media, 2009), who helped compile and edit the list. “Sometimes the provocation is reassuring, sometimes it creates agitation. Inevitably, it causes moviegoers to express their views and to seek out other opinions on the subject. At the end of the day, this is what motion pictures were meant to do - take passive audience observers and make them active players in considering the subject being presented.”
Well, I'm not sure if the really devout will consider anything but their own outrage whenever their religious beliefs are questioned or challenged. And that reminds me: How come Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (above, with Willem Dafoe) is nowhere to be found on the list, but The Blues Brothers is #11?
Film Snobberyites, that may mean a long stay in purgatory for you guys.